Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wounded Warrior to Star in Reality Show

By Elaine Sanchez 
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 12, 2011 - A few weeks ago, I was browsing the Web, filling my insatiable appetite for pop culture trivia, when I saw a familiar face among the new cast of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."
Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army veteran J.R. Martinez, a wounded warrior turned motivational speaker and actor, will appear on the new season of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." 
Among a line of reality and pop stars was Army veteran J.R. Martinez, a wounded warrior turned motivational speaker and actor. I smiled as I recalled meeting the former soldier three years ago.At the time, I was the post newspaper editor at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and had volunteered to write about a special camp for military teens whose parents were wounded or deployed.
The camp took place at the middle school, and when I arrived, the teens already had split into small groups to share their stories. One table in particular caught my eye. A group of 16- and 17-year-olds was intently listening to a wounded warrior as he shared his wartime experiences.
I approached the table, camera in hand, and first noticed his face was heavily scarred. But after a few seconds, I saw only a young man with a ready smile, at ease with the teens around him. He laughed and joked with them as he talked about his experiences and shared his message of resilience and hope, qualities he had acquired in spades several years ago.
In March 2003, Martinez was less than a month into his deployment when the Humvee he was driving struck a landmine. Three soldiers were thrown from the burning vehicle, but Martinez was trapped inside. He suffered severe burns to more than 40 percent of his body.
He spent 34 months in recovery at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, and underwent 33 surgeries.
While in recovery, Martinez began to share his story with other burn patients, which eventually led him to become a highly sought-after motivational speaker. He now travels the country, spreading a message of resilience and optimism. He also pursued an acting career, and plays a combat veteran on ABC's "All My Children."
That day in San Antonio, Martinez shared his story with me and his desire to help others. He hoped the teens would be able to relate to him, he said, and gain inspiration from his story.
I met many wounded warriors in my time at Fort Sam, but Martinez left a lasting impression. He could have withdrawn after such a terrible tragedy. But instead, he has stepped into the spotlight with an indelible message of hope.
I'm excited about his upcoming appearance on the new season of "Dancing with the Stars." While people may tune in to see the sambas and cha chas, I hope they also are reminded of the immense sacrifices our service members are making each day, and their astonishing ability to soar even after the greatest adversity.
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