Twice within two months in 2003, Martinez, Food Service captain at the Neal Unit in Amarillo, survived the detonation of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by insurgents while serving as a U.S. Army convoy commander in the region of Iraq known as the Sunni Triangle. And for his meritorious service and injuries suffered in the blasts, Martinez was awarded the Bronze Star and two Purple Heart medals.
Martinez was actually deployed to Iraq as a sergeant with the 974th Quartermaster Company in March 2003. In that capacity, his duty was to launder clothing and to prepare and distribute meals to as many as 1,000 soldiers stationed in an area between the insurgent strongholds of Ramadi and Fallujah west of Baghdad. While stationed there, Martinez volunteered to leave the relative safety of the compound for convoy duty, an assignment made particularly harrowing because of the planting of roadside bombs by insurgents.
“There was a road we took that was like what you see here,” Martinez said, pointing to his surroundings. “It was clean. And in a matter of a few months, there were holes all up and down both sides of the shoulders where all the IEDs had been planted and exploded.”
Still, as a soldier, Martinez accepted the dangers that came with convoy duty.
“There comes a point in time where the mission comes first,” he said. “No matter what happens, you’ve got a mission to do, and you’re going to try to get it done to the best of your ability. If you say you’re not scared, you’re lying, because you are. But you’ve got a duty to do. It’s something that needs to get done.”
The first roadside bomb Martinez encountered exploded at the rear of his vehicle on August 7, 2003 as the supply convoy he commanded moved minutes west of Baghdad. The bomb was relatively small and no soldier was seriously injured.
“This was at the beginning stages (of the insurgency), so the IEDs weren’t as powerful as they are now,” he said. “But it’s a deafening experience. The concussion of the blast is pretty strong. It shook our vehicle up enough for us to feel it and to wonder what was going on because we hadn’t experienced it before.”
The second bomb went off just two months later as Martinez led a convoy taking the battalion commander to another outpost for a meeting. This time, the bomb exploded just behind the door of the unarmored Humvee Martinez drove.
“The concussion of that blast was a lot stronger than the first one,” Martinez said. “This time it caused me to black out for a second or two. It gave the vehicle a good jolt and actually picked it up in the air. But with instincts, I just kept driving. I kept my foot on the gas and kept going.”
The two blasts left Martinez with damage to the vertebrae in his neck and a ringing in his ears that continues to this day. In all, he commanded approximately 50 convoys and traveled some 20,000 miles over perhaps the most dangerous roads in the world while stationed in Iraq.
In April 2004, Martinez’s tour was extended by four months and he moved with his unit to area south of Baghdad to take over a post previously held by Spanish troops. There he worked to provide laundry and shower services to members of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Armored Division. After 18 months in Iraq, he returned home to his wife and two daughters in August 2004. He was back at work as a Food Service captain with TDCJ about 45 days later.
Martinez said the worst part of his deployment to Iraq was being away from his family. But he said his TDCJ colleagues looked after his wife and daughters while he was gone and regularly sent him care packages and cards of support.
“Their support brought me to tears at one time,” he said. “I’ve still got their cards. I had great support from the unit.”
Martinez, a native of Espanola, New Mexico, first enlisted in the Army in 1983 as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, later joining the Army Reserve.