J.R. Martinez Visits MU

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Sarah Sabatke – MUTV 23 News Staff Writer

MU kicked off Veteran’s Week at the Missouri Theater on Monday, hosting U.S. Army veteran J.R. Martinez.

While he has now come to be known and recognized for his honorable service during the Iraq war, Martinez is best known for his role as combat veteran Brot Monroe on the soap opera “All My Children,” as well as for his win on Season 13 of Dancing with the Stars.

Martinez spoke to students and members of the community about his journey, and how he decided to join the United States Army. He spoke of his rural upbringing in Hope, Arkansas, and his decision to move to Georgia in order to pursue a career in the NFL. At least, that was how his life plan said it would happen.

“There’s a reason why you write your life plan out in pencil and not in pen,” said Martinez.

After realizing he would not be able to begin a college football career until late in his academic career, Martinez decided to enlist. His mother was hesitant but, after some convincing, he left for basic training and was deployed to Iraq as an army infantryman soon after.

“Even though I knew war was a possibility, I never thought it would be a reality,” he said.

In Feb. of 2003 Martinez was driving near Karbala, just south of Baghdad, when the front tire of his Humvee hit an IED. It happened suddenly, but for Martinez time was unbearably slow.

“I was only trapped in the truck for 5 minutes, but it felt like I was trapped for 5 years… I watched my hands change in a way that you only see in horror movies,” said Martinez when describing the horrific moment.

Martinez spent a grueling 34 months in recovery at Brooke Army Medical Center, undergoing 33 different surgeries. The physical pain was far from over, but it was the emotional pain that was the hardest to grasp.

“You have to be willing to listen. You have to be willing to grow. You have to be willing to start over,” he said. “Now, my uniform is my scars, my weapons are my words.”

Audience members were impressed by Martinez’s strength and resilience. His story of survival in the face of major adversity resonated with many, especially World War II and Korean War veteran John Rhein.

“I think he fills a real need and maybe there should be more of him travelling and doing the necessary talking to keep spirit up,” said Rhein.

Rhein had a special reason for attending Martinez’s speech.

“When I leave here I’ll go home for a little while, and then I’ll go over to the hotel in town and meet the veterans coming home from the Honor Flight. Every time they go, I go and welcome them home.”

Martinez emphasized the importance of stepping out of one’s comfort zone, and reminded audience members that everyone experiences hard times.

“We all face adversity. Different types; but still adversity.”

 

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