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    The Quiet Champion

    Boxer now

    Photo By Master Sgt. Ryan Matson | Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Meek recreates the boxing pose that brought him success as a top...... read more read more



    Story by Master Sgt. Ryan Matson 

    104th Training Division (Leader Training)

    To his fellow Soldiers of 4th Battalion, 399th Training Regiment, 58-year-old Sgt. 1st Class Joe Meek is a kind, soft-spoken, grandfatherly-type person. He’s always positive, and quick to provide some clever humor to make them smile.
    “Joe Meek is one of the kindest, genuinely nicest guys I’ve ever been around,” Sgt. Jason Ledbetter, 4th Bn., 399th Training Regt., who often rides with Meek from the Louisville area to their unit at Fort Knox, said.
    “He has a real heart of gold. If it’s going to be a long battle assembly weekend, he offers a place to stay at his house. He does this for all the Soldiers – if they’re needing a bed, he supplies it, he feeds them. It’s hard to find such a truly nice person like that.”
    What most of his fellow Soldiers don’t know, however, is the other side of Meek. Joe “The Executioner” Meek was one of the top amateur boxers of the late 1980’s. He was ranked in the top ten nationally in the light middleweight division from 1986-88 by Ring Magazine, compiling a record of 159-16 and squaring off against four future world champions – Roy Jones Jr., Michael Nunn, Frank Tate, and Mark Breland.
    “I don’t consider Roy Jones Jr. to be my toughest fight,” Meek said. “I think that was Michael Nunn. If he wouldn’t have gotten into trouble with drugs, I think he was better, he hit harder and he was harder to get to.”
    “When I fought Roy, he ran 100 miles per hour backwards and I was chasing him, but it was like trying to hit smoke,” he added with a laugh.
    Meek got into boxing as an 11-year-old in 1975.
    “It seemed that, from a very early age, other people wanted to hit me,” Meek said in one of his trademark clever quips. “I was an annoying child and one of my teachers said if you’re gonna be fighting all the time, you ought to at least learn how to do it.”
    Meek said he immediately fell in love with the sport.
    “There’s a really, really, good feeling that comes with being alone in the ring with everybody watching and you being the winner,” Meek said. “I loved playing football, wrestling and cross country, but the feeling was just different with boxing.”
    Meek was born in Corydon, Indiana, but grew up in New Albany, Indiana. This meant he was across the Ohio River from Louisville, a hotbed of boxing.
    “I was a gym rat,” Meek said. “It’s kind of frowned upon, but I boxed in every gym I could, I didn’t care.”
    Meek trained at the gym owned by champion kickboxer Terry Middleton in New Albany. He also trained at Bud Bruner’s Headline Gym in Louisville, where boxing greats like Muhammad Ali and Jimmy Ellis trained. He trained in Smoketown with legendary trainer Fred Stoner, who trained a young Ali. He also got the chance to train with Jimmy Ellis.
    “I had my first amateur fight when I was 11 years old, and I was sparring with pros in Louisville when I was 14 and 15 years old,” Meek said.
    An orthodox boxer, he found he had natural talent and was a hard puncher with strong defense and a good inside fighter. However, Meek said he soon discovered he was much more interested in boxing than attending high school. He was kicked out before graduating.
    “It wasn’t for fighting,” Meek said. “But if you don’t attend, they make you quit.”
    Meek instead devoted his life to fighting. Unfortunately, he said he was involved in a fight at the fast-food restaurant where he was employed at the time. When the case was prosecuted, Meek said the prosecutor gave him a choice between entering a reform facility or joining the military.
    “It ended up being one of the biggest favors anyone ever did for me,” Meek said.
    Meek will be the first to admit he was not a model Soldier his first enlistment, from 1983-86.
    “I didn’t really do anything good for the Army my first time around – I was in trouble a lot,” Meek said. “I went from E-1 to E-4 twice in about 27 months.”
    While Meek said he struggled as a Soldier during his initial enlistment, he was able to find refuge within the ring. He was a member of the All-Army boxing team from 1984-85 at Fort Riley, Kansas, where he was a teammate of future welterweight champion Vince Phillips.
    After leaving the Army in 1986, Meek’s career peaked. He was a Golden Gloves runner-up in 1987-88 and won the 1988 Kentucky State Boxing Championships in Richmond.
    Meek’s career ended after he lost a second fight to Nate Henderson, of Cincinnati, in a match at Louisville Gardens.
    “Fred (Stoner) always said, boxing is not a sport you want to be second-best at,” Meek said. “After fighting four world champions, including Jones Jr. in the 1988 Olympic Trials, and not beating any of them, I sort of lost my desire. Every other boxer I lost to, I was able to beat in a rematch, but I never got a rematch against Tate, Nunn, Jones Jr. or Breland. But after losing to Henderson, I had enough.”
    Now, Meek is a Cadet Summer Training Instructor (CST) at Fort Knox, Kentucky, sharing his words of wisdom with the Army’s future leaders from universities throughout the U.S.
    Meek loves working with the young officers, because a young Army officer helped him change his life around. After his first enlistment and the end of his boxing career, Meek worked a series of menial jobs in the Louisville area. He was selling used cars in 2001 when another salesman told him the World Trade Center was under attack.
    “I was only 38, and had stayed very active, and knew I could have been a much better Soldier the first time around, so I went to the recruiter to see if there was any way I could get back in the Army,” Meek recalled.
    Meek, who had been a multiple launch rocket system crew member his initial enlistment, returned as a light wheel mechanic in 2001. Soon after returning, his unit, the 678th Human Resources Company (Postal), was slated to go to Iraq. While Meek wanted to deploy, he was not qualified within the human resources military occupational specialty, so until he completed that training, he couldn’t deploy with the unit. His commander, 1st Lt. Chris Oberloh, worked on his behalf to obtain a waiver from a general officer for his deployment.
    Meek said he believes his commander taking a chance on him changed his life.
    “What that lieutenant did for me there set me up for the second half of my life,” Meek said. “I saved all my pennies when I was deployed, and when I got back, I bought a house. She’s a great person I’ll never forget.”
    When Meek returned, he reunited with his first girlfriend from high school, Leilani. They were married soon after and Meek started working for the American Printing House for the blind. He also met one of his closest friends, Ledbetter, in 2012 at Bowman Airfield in Louisville, Kentucky, when both were members of the 354th Chemical Company.
    “We hit it off immediately,” Ledbetter said. “We both have the same type of immature sense of humor. We liked to goof around and take popular songs and ruin the lyrics to them. We’ve been great friends since.”
    Now that both are members of the 399th at Fort Knox, Kentucky, the pair have spent countless hours riding to drill together from the Louisville area and working together in their new unit.
    “He likes to drive, and it saves me a little gas,” Ledbetter said. “Plus, we get to hang out and rip on the latest things going on at work.”
    Meek, once an elite athlete, now suffers with hip issues and a long list of physical ailments from years of boxing. He loved boxing but said he doesn’t miss it and is content to deal with the physical problems that may have resulted from fighting over an extended period of time. He said he once had multiple trophies, belts, and plaques, but the only remaining memories he has of his time as a boxer are a couple photographs hanging from the walls of his home sports bar.
    “I was blessed with the gift of forgetfulness,” Meek said with a laugh. “I don’t do regret.”
    Still, he is the first one to his lane to train cadets every morning.
    “He’s still got the fire inside, but his body just isn’t there,” Ledbetter said. “He still hangs in there though.”
    Ledbetter believes a young Soldier could learn the value of a good attitude, perseverance, and dedication to the mission by watching Meek. Meek could easily retire, but said he continues to serve because he loves the Army and believes in the mission.
    “It’s pretty important, working with the future leaders of the Army,” Meek said. “These days a lot of people don’t want to join the Army. I wasn’t the best Soldier my first time around, so this is a way of paying back. If you can help, you should.”
    Meek will turn 59 in September, meaning the end of his military career is quickly approaching. He has researched obtaining a waiver to extend his service past his mandatory retirement date at 60 but was advised this is not very likely.
    Still, Meek said he plans to be a Soldier until the Army forces him to retire.
    “He loves the Army, through and through,” Ledbetter said. “He would do this until 80 if he could. He’d do it the rest of his life.”



    Date Taken: 07.11.2023
    Date Posted: 07.11.2023 16:57
    Story ID: 448919
    Location: FORT KNOX, KY, US
    Hometown: NEW ALBANY, IN, US

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