Growing up in Compton, Calif., wouldn’t be easy for anyone. This is a part of our country where gang violence and drugs are prevalent and tough to steer clear from. However, for Jose Martinez, living near these negative distractions was a way of life where he did his best to survive and make smart decisions.
In an effort to better himself, Martinez enlisted in the US Army to serve our country in Afghanistan. He was in the infantry division and stationed near Kandahar where his unit saw regular action. “There was rarely a mission that we didn’t have a few casualties, or at least get shot at,” says Specialist Martinez a three-year Army infantryman. His plans were to make a career of the military because, among many aspects, he enjoyed the camaraderie, stability and brotherhood it provided.
As a kid, Martinez struggled with his weight and self-esteem, finding it hard to think highly of himself. When he got older and lost weight, he learned to appreciate who he was as a person and stood a little bit taller. Prior to departing for Afghanistan he met a met a very nice lady through friends and they hit it off. After he deployed, he would make a point to contact her after missions, send her flowers on Valentine’s Day and keep in touch regularly. Little did he know that one day she would be his rock, eventually becoming his wife and life partner.
On a routine mission Martinez encountered an improvised explosive device (IED) that rendered him unconscious and disfigured his body. The injuries he sustained would change his life forever in so many ways. “When I woke up I was disgusted with myself and my body, just as I had been during my childhood.” The explosion cost him both of his legs and an arm. The doctors had informed him that he would be permanently attached to a wheelchair and would be lucky if he would ever be able to stand for five minutes, let alone walk.
Martinez was determined to prove the doctors wrong and now spends the majority of his time on his prosthetics, regardless of the pain they cause him by constantly breaking skin around his waistline. “This is just a small price I pay to feel somewhat normal,” says Martinez. Learning to love his body has once again become a constant struggle. He is missing limbs and is badly scarred.
During the first stages of recovery Martinez was consumed by prescription pills. Often times, he felt using pills would help him sleep and forget that he had lost his arm and both legs. In fact, there were several instances when he tried consuming so many pills in hopes of not waking up. The pills were helping him run away from the reality that was ugly and disgusting. That being said, we are reminded that 22 veterans a day commit suicide, and that most narcotics just numb the pain until the cliff of depression consumes them. Martinez is proud to say he has not taken a pill in well over two years and regularly reminds others that pills are not always the best answer. “If I were still on pills, I’d be in the corner scared to leave my house, and that’s not me,” explains Jose.
Martinez is thankful to several people who he has encountered during recovery, and helped him defy all odds by learning to walk – he can now truly stand proud. “I have learned to love every part of me all over again,” says Martinez. Venturing out into public for the first few times was difficult, both physically and mentally. When people stared, it was tough for him to ignore the looks. His wife always reminded him that it really didn’t matter what people thought since he wouldn’t be seeing them again anyway. “Having her by my side throughout this entire process has given me a realistic hope in humanity. She has shown me how proud she is and I love standing tall next to her,” explains Martinez.
Never forgetting his roots and how tough life was and can be, Martinez now regularly engages in motivational speaking for school kids, veterans and other groups. “I get nervous, my heart races and palms sweat, but before I know it I’m done talking and time has flown by,” says Martinez. He enjoys telling folks that nothing is impossible and that if you put your mind to it, you will be successful! Motivating people brings a huge smile to his face, as he is able to show others that success with anything comes from the inside.
Growing up, Martinez idolized Michael Jordan and owned several pairs of his sneakers, some of which he still wears today. Just as Jordan never gave up, nor has Martinez, and he uses that same outlook to persevere under any circumstances. He understands that there will be setbacks and failures on the journey of life, but remains very determined to defy the odds. “I want kids to grow up and truly believe that they can be what they desire, spark their imagination and inspire them to dream,” says Martinez. Through all of this he remains humble, and says that he is just doing his job by helping others.
Prior to joining the military he had never hunted or fished, let alone fired a rifle. Growing up he always wanted to learn, and appreciated that people could independently feed themselves in these ways. “Hunting and being able to provide for my family seems very American to me,” he says. “I never imagined I’d be capable of, or even have the opportunity to hunt, especially after my injuries.”
In August 2013 Martinez was on a diving trip off the Caribbean island of Bonaire when he met a guy named Hugh. Hugh had promised him that he would get him shooting again, so the two exchanged numbers. A couple months later Hugh called and invited Martinez on a pheasant hunt in Sioux Falls, S.D. “Hugh helped me learn how to shoot all over again, and I haven’t stopped hunting ever since. I cannot thank that man enough,” says Jose. Since then he has embarked on several adventures hunting hogs, elk and other critters with assistance from Lonestar Warriors Outdoors and the Veterans Sportsman Alliance, an organization dedicated to wounded veterans and whose motto is, “Benefiting the most worthy among us.” Actually, the VSA has become Martinez’s second family.
Hunting has provided Jose with the motivation to become better at walking so that he will eventually be able to hunt different types of terrain. Being outdoors makes him feel human again. He feels as if he has no wounds, and is part of the natural world without judgement. Martinez is able to push his body to the limit, and challenge himself to walk on his prosthetics, which in turn makes him feel invigorated and free.
Jose wants today’s children to understand that hard work does pay off. “If kids just had the opportunities to explore sports like football, basketball, archery, skiing or shooting without worrying about money, that would be amazing,” says Jose. He would love to help organizations that reward kids for making good grades with these sorts of activities. In addition, through motivational speaking he hopes to encourage veterans to be outdoors, enjoy nature and heal emotionally. I asked him if he could say one thing to veterans returning from combat. He replied, “No matter what, you aren’t alone, there are people who truly care for you and will help.”
Jose Martinez is a Purple Heart recipient and modern-day hero. That is truly an inspiration for anyone. He is living proof that the American dream is possible, regardless of one’s disabilities or humble beginnings. ASJ
Editor’s note: For more information on the Veterans Sportsman Alliance and what they do for our veterans, or how you can help, visit them at veteransportmanalliance.org. The American Shooting Journal featured jose Martinez on the cover of their November 2015 veteran’s issue.