Earl Fontenot - Fellow

Feb 10, 2012
Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle and Earl Fontenot
Earl Fontenot - Fellow

As the Veteran and Military Liaison in the district office of Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle, some of Earl Fontenot’s days are roughly what you’d expect – a Purple Heart Ceremony in the morning, a meeting with the local small business association to advocate for veteran entrepreneurs over lunch, a crateful of casework in the afternoon.

But don’t be fooled.

“There’s no such thing as a typical day,” Fontenot says. “Right now, I’m also trying to help get some training airspace for the Reaper.”

That’s the MQ-9 Reaper, the U.S. Air Force’s long-endurance, high-altitude drone. And that proposed training airspace is above New York’s 25th Congressional District, where the Air National Guard’s 174th Fighter Wing trains its pilots.

A former E5 sergeant gunner in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Fontenot earned his current position as a fellow in the Wounded Warrior Program. He started in September 2011. He says adjusting from the military to social work took some time and effort, especially when it came to his casework. “It’s one thing to know how to do the casework, but actually being the caseworker? You have to have a different mindset,” he says.

Now, Fontenot finds that aspect of his job among its most fulfilling. “When I get to call a vet and say, ‘Hey, we finally got you your Purple Heart’ or ‘I just got a letter from the VA and they approved your claim - you’re going to be taken care of for the rest of your life,’ It’s just a great feeling,” he says.

Currently, Fontenot oversees about 80 cases in the district. One of the most challenging involves obtaining a duplicate Congressional Medal of Honor for the family of a deceased World War II veteran. “Somewhere along the way, the original disappeared,” Fontenot says. “It’s a very difficult process, but I think we’re gonna get it.”  

Fontenot, a native of Broomfield, Colorado, took a job as a manager with a commercial construction supplier when he completed his military service. But he says watching a fellow vet struggle with PTSD inspired him to apply for the Wounded Warrior Program. “I wanted to do what I could,” he says.

Now, he’s helping make the lives of former service men and women a little easier. They’re helping him, too. “When I get to establish that rapport with them, they know I’ve walked in their shoes,” he says, “It’s like my own personal therapy.”