Wounded vet Joe Deslauriers finds fulfilment in engraving business

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

He loved his job in the military as part of the explosive ordnance disposal team, but after stepping on an IED that resulted in the amputation of an arm 4 inches below the elbow and both legs above the knee, Joe Deslauriers is finding fulfilment in his custom engraving business. 

Deslauriers, 43, of JR’s Custom Metal Engraving, is a retired master sergeant, father of two and lives in Emerald Bay in Destin, where he has set up shop for his business adventure. 

“I spent about four years on the couch trying to figure out what I was going to do,” said Deslauriers, who noted that he went through serious depression after he was injured in 2011. 

Deslauriers then found out Semper Fi & America’s Fund had an apprenticeship program. 

“My caseworker got me in touch with the program and I started working from here. They helped me buy one of the machines and Homes for Heroes bought one of the other machines,” he said of the tools that engrave anything from paper to steel. 

Joseph Deslauriers shows off one of the laser engraving machines he uses in his home-based business, JR's Custom Metal Engraving, he started with help from the Semper Fi and America's Fund. Deslauriers, a former U.S. Air Force EOD technician, lost both legs and part of his arm to an IED blast while serving in Afghanistan in 2011.

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He started his business in 2019, but it’s been off and on. 

“I was finding that there was a lot of need for it,” said Deslaurierrs, who added he can do jobs with very little overhead. 

“I do it for interacting with the community,” he said. 

He has done engraving for a neighbor's softball team, things at Destin Elementary School and even the signs over the classrooms and name plates. 

He has also engraved Yeti cups for ball teams, watches as going away gifts and even hammers for groomsmen in a wedding party.  

“I’ve done like 600 cups for a job,” he said. 

“Sometimes I get overwhelmed and it can be too much. I’d rather take on little jobs at the time. I have to pace myself,” Deslauriers said. 

The most difficult things he has been asked to engrave are guns or weapons. 

“If you mess up a gun, it’s going to cost you,” he said. “But I take on jobs I know I can do. ... I challenge myself occasionally.

“I enjoy it,” Deslauriers added.

Is it fulfilling? 

“The troubling thing with me, because I loved my job in the military so much … I was trying to find something that fulfilled me in the same way. And it does," Deslauriers said. “My job (EOD) challenged me. It put me in challenging situations to say the least. Some days you’d find yourself working for the Secret Service and doing presidential searches or the next time you find yourself in Afghanistan clearing a route for a convoy.

Destin resident Joseph Deslauriers talks about the home-based business he has started, JR's Custom Metal Engraving. Deslauriers, a former Air Force EOD technician, lost both legs and part of his arm to an IED blast while serving in Afghanistan in 2011.

“Obviously I can’t do that now,” he said as he sat in his motorized chair. “But it’s challenging to get what the customer wants … like when they give me something like a watch where they were getting it for their dad who helped their mother get through cancer, and it was a gift for him. I feel like I’m part of that. So, it’s fulfilling that way. Where I can make something for somebody, and what I did is going to be like a forever gift.”

But Deslauriers is quick to credit to all the organizations that have helped him along the way, such as Semper Fi & America’s Fund and Homes for Heroes. 

“It was a struggle there for a while, trying to figure out what I wanted to do,” he said, noting he had been in the military since he was 18 and didn’t know anything else. 

“I couldn’t have done it without all the organizations that have helped me. I didn’t know where to go or what to do,” he said. 

Joseph Deslauriers uses a laser to engrave a metal medallion in his home-based business, JR's Custom Metal Engraving. Deslauriers, a former U.S. Air Force EOD technician, lost both legs and part of his arm to an IED blast while serving in Afghanistan in 2011. He started the business with help from the Semper Fi and America's Fund.


Deslauriers, originally from Massachusetts, joined the military in 1998. He wanted to be a firefighter like his dad, but mostly he wanted to get out of town after high school. 

“It was a dead-end town. ... I wanted to see some things,” he said. 

He went to basic training in February 1998 knowing he was going to be an explosive ordnance disposal technician, “basically the bomb squad,” he said. 

“They had a bonus and other things if you signed up for six years and extra rank if you went and did EOD.”  

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So, he signed up for EOD and came to the area for the first time for EOD school at Eglin Air Force Base. He did half the school in Okaloosa County and the other half in Maryland. 

His first duty station was in Germany. 

“I loved Germany. … You’re in the hub of Europe. Lots of beer, bread and pork,” Deslauriers said. 

He was there for almost three years. While thereb he was deployed to Kuwait a couple of times. Then he went to Korea. 

“That was an awesome time, had a great time there. It was culture shock,” he said. 

Deslauriers said that in Germany everybody pretty much looked like people in the states. But in Korea, everybody looked different and a bit shorter. 

He was there when terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.  

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“We were in a bar downtown. ... They came and rounded us up and got us back to base and we went into Delta, FPCON Delta, which is the most stringent force protection condition, for about a week,” he said. 

Then in 2002 he returned to the states and was stationed at Hurlburt Field until he retired in 2014. 

Deslauriers was deployed several times, three times to Afghanistan and once to Iraq in 2006. 

“I deployed constantly from 2006 until I was injured in 2011. It was a pretty hectic lifestyle,” he said. 

In the midst of it all, however, he met his now wife, Lisa, in 2007 and they married in 2010. She got pregnant soon after and he was deployed in May 2011 to Afghanistan. 

Deslauriers said they had been living out of vehicles for about 20 days when his life changed on Sept. 23, 2011. “We were just on our own.”  

In the days leading up to Sept. 23, he said he'd wake up with about a quarter-inch of dust on him in the morning. 

“It was like remote camping, but there is a possible enemy out there that might kill you,” he said. 

Nevertheless, “It was something I loved to do, and if you gave me the chance to do it again, I would. No one should have regrets. We make decisions and then you live with them … whatever the consequences may be.” 

He was conducting a post blast investigation after three IEDs had exploded on Sept. 23 when he stepped on a pressure plate in an area that had already been swept. 

Some recent examples of what Joseph Deslauriers has created in his home-based business, JR’s Custom Metal Engraving, include these signs.  Deslauriers, a former U.S. Air Force EOD technician, lost both legs and part of his arm to an IED blast while serving in Afghanistan in 2011. He started the business with help from the Semper Fi and America’s Fund.

He had walked over the area three or four times and stepped on it while heading back to the truck. 

“I had finally decided to pick up my stuff and start walking back on the same path, but that’s when boom. I felt like somebody hit me with a freight train. My ears are ringing, like typical movie stuff,” he said.  

He had stepped on a land mine, which was around 15,000 pounds of explosives. 

Right after the explosion, it took 15 to 20 minutes for an aircraft to come pick him up.  

“The guys on the ground saved my life. It was two Marines and two of my Air Force guys, they saved my life with tourniquets,” he said. “I didn’t feel much of anything; it was like numbness. I was stunned.

“The doctor said that if it wasn’t for the guys on the ground I would have died for sure," he added. 

He was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. 

“I was out for five days,” he said. When he woke up from his first surgery his wife Lisa and family were there. 

He was in the hospital for about two months and was discharged on his birthday, Nov. 24.  

“I was able to leave the hospital and go into a little apartment that they have there for wounded warriors. So, my wife and I could live together again and try to get back to some kind of normalcy and figure out what life was going to be like.”  

Deslauriers said he went through a mourning period. 

“You mourn your legs ... kind of go through a funeral in your mind. You realize you were here, and now you are on an alternate path of what reality is. It’s been tough, but thank God for family, thank God for my wife and my in-laws,” he said. 

A statue outside Joseph Deslauriers' home in Destin shows a soldier carrying a wounded comrade. Deslauriers, a former U.S. Air Force EOD technician, lost both legs and part of his arm to an IED blast while serving in Afghanistan in 2011.

His son was born Dec. 8 that same year on the sixth floor at Walter Reed. 

It was about a two-year process before he left Walter Reed and returned to Destin. 

“We decided to come back here because all of our friends were here and her family was close,” he said. 

He retired from service in 2014 with a Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart, among other decorations and awards.