Whether training for the field or taking inventory for change of commands, Sgt. Joseph Collette made whatever he did fun, Sgt. Thomas Simpson said.
When told to jump into a water buffalo tank to clean it out, the explosive ordnance disposal specialist asked to be shut inside and pushed around. If there was a pelican case nearby, the Fort Carson soldier would ask others to close the lid so he could pop out and scare his captain.
Collette, 29, brought laughter and lightness to almost every moment, even the memorial the post held Friday afternoon three weeks after his death in Afghanistan. He and Fort Carson Special Forces Sgt. 1st Class Will Lindsay were killed during a firefight with Taliban insurgents in Kunduz province.
“It has both comforted me and brought me great sadness,” said Simpson, pausing to quietly clear his throat, “remembering how much joy Joey brought to my life while he was in it and knowing that he is not anymore.”
As Simpson and others shared memories of Collette’s antics, the 200 enlisted personnel and civilians crowding the Soldiers’ Memorial Chapel couldn’t help but smile through their sniffles and tears.
Their mourning for the Lancaster, Ohio, native came through in the silence as his name was called out three times during his final roll call, in the smoke that hung in the air after the firing of three volleys and as his wife, Caela, and two of his young daughters stood holding hands in front of Collette’s helmet, boots and rifle.
Collette’s job dismantling explosive devices is one of the most dangerous in the Army. Despite the risks, his “ceaseless drive to help others and solve problems” led him toward the position, said Maj. Elizabeth Schwemmer, the 242nd EOD Battalion Rear-Detachment commander.
“Incredibly brilliant, Sgt. Collette had no shortage of options in or out of the Army. He could’ve picked any job,” she said. “But due to his desire to help his fellow man and make an impact beyond himself, he selected one of the most dangerous jobs. A job whose mission is to protect others by taking on grave risk upon oneself.”
The Army posthumously recognized his valor by promoting him from specialist to sergeant and awarding him the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
Collette was a nine-year Army veteran on his first Afghanistan deployment. He was assigned to the Post’s 71st Ordnance Group and earned the four Army Achievement Medals.