By Debbie Gregory.
In 2003, nineteen-year-old Private Jose Rene (J.R.) Martinez was on a routine patrol in Iraq, when the Humvee he was driving hit an anti-tank mine. J.R. sustained severe injuries and burns on his face and over one-third of his body. But out of that horrifying tragedy came a journey of inspiration and motivation.
J.R.’s career path has been incredible, and perhaps even a bit improbable. A high school football player from a small town in Georgia, J.R. was the only son of a single working mother who emigrated from El Salvador. When his hopes of playing college football fell through, he joined the Army.
J.R. was proud to serve. In September of 2002, J.R. underwent Basic and Advanced Training at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he gained skills as an 11-B Infantryman. After reporting to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in January of 2003, he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division.
That’s where J.R.’s life was changed. Forever. He was only one month into that first deployment , when the front tire of his Humvee made contact with that roadside bomb. J.R. was trapped inside. Fighting for his life, he was evacuated to Landstuhl, Germany, for immediate care. He then spent nearly three years recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC/SAMC) in San Antonio, Texas
Instead of wallowing in self-pity, which he did for a while, J.R. ran with the opportunity to reinvent his life. His first small step was to speak to another young burn victim. J.R. realized how valuable and gratifying it was to share his experiences with other patients, and listen to theirs. This calling led him to motivational speaking engagements, acting gigs, and winning the coveted “Mirror Ball” on Dancing With the Stars.
Follow J.R.’s journey in his new book, Full of Heart: My Story of Survival, Strength, and Spirit.
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Military Connection: A Story of Triumph: By Debbie Gregory