day Im in my dorm having fun with all my friends.
Next thing I know, Im at Camp Pendleton in camouflage
attends to preparations and last minute details for his return
to the University of Massachusetts and the start of the fall semester.
The Amherst campus is long way from his native Sylmar and the Mission
College campus, where Martinez was a student from 2001-02 and again
this summer. But for Martinez, who spent part of the spring fighting
in the war in Iraq, Massachusetts is a short road trip.
The 24-year-old college junior has been all over the world, including
Australia, Thailand, Singapore, Madagascar, Yemen and Kuwait, as
a member of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. His many months
at sea led him to develop a love for reading that he had never experienced
as a self-described "below average" student at San Fernando
"Two weeks at sea is like two months on land," he said.
"Its a long time. But the (Navy) ships have libraries.
I started reading everything."
Martinez estimates that he read well over 100 books on the long
expeditions at sea during his four-year tour. For that, he took
friendly heat from his fellow marines, who preferred to break the
tedium by playing cards or video games.
"So many of my buddies were bored or homesick on the ship,"
he recalled. "Theyd ask me how I could sit there and
read so much. Id tell them, Im not even here right
now; Im not with you guys. Im in another place,
wherever the book was."
It was logical that Martinezs love of reading would lead him
to college. When his active tour ended in 2001, he enrolled at Mission
College. Soon, he had enough units to transfer to the University
of Massachusetts, harboring hopes that some day he might be able
to write like some of his favorite authors. Though Amherst is about
as different from Sylmar as you can get, Martinez settled in, enjoyed
his classes, made new friends, and attended conferences on the East
Then came the orders. The orders recalling him to active duty just
before the start of the war with Iraq.
"One day Im in my dorm having fun with all my friends,"
he recalled. "Next thing I know, Im at Camp Pendleton
in camouflage uniform."
Martinez thought he had seen the last of the Middle East when his
unit was dispatched to Yemen in October 2000, shortly after the
bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. (They provided security for the FBI
agents who investigated the terrorist attack.) But while in the
region, Martinez and his fellow marines underwent desert combat
training in Kuwait experience that made him too valuable
to ignore when war preparations began in earnest.
Martinez was shipped to Kuwait and a convoy ride later, found himself
in southern Iraq.
"At least I knew what to expect," he said. "My buddies
were shocked at the heat the amount of water you have to
drink to stay hydrated. If you stand on the tarmac too long, your
boots melt into the asphalt."
In Iraq, Martinez performed security work, guard patrol, humanitarian
assistance, and treated the injured until he himself suffered
a gunshot wound. He prefers not to give details, saying only that
it was non-life-threatening, put him in the hospital for a week,
and ended his active duty in Iraq. Soon, he was back stateside and
lobbying his professors to let him complete the classes that were
interrupted by war. He convinced two and managed to save six units.
Now, he looks forward to the fall semester and a resumption of the
academic life. He thanks the marines for helping him find his way
in life after a troubled adolescence. But he is no longer Marine
Sgt. Martinez. Hes a college junior, trying to decide on a
major and a career path. And while those decisions are important,
they dont stress out this veteran as much as they do other
students. After what hes seen and done after discovering
a love for reading and education and then being pulled away to war,
Martinez feels hes back where he wants to be, without a day
"I just want to keep moving, keep learning," he said.
"Maybe Ill meet that professor or take that class that
Or, read a book that changes his life again.
BY EDUARDO PARDO