Global Citizen Soldier

by Jeffrey Billman | photos by Scott Cook

Christian Martinez '14

CHRISTIAN MARTINEZ ’14 was small, the last to hit puberty. He was bullied, pushed around by the bigger kids.

Despite that—or maybe because of it—Martinez found himself drawn to challenges. He found a father figure in an ROTC instructor, a brash ex-Navy SEAL who pushed him to his limits. Martinez wanted to be admired like that. He wanted to be in the military, to put on the uniform, to serve, to have an adventure.

But instead, he surprised the recruiters—the ones who assumed that his enlistment was a certainty—and went to Valencia Community College. He enrolled for the wrong reasons—because this is what you do after high school: Go to college. Get a diploma. Get a job.

And then September 11 happened. “I need to stop pretending to be a student,” he told himself. That day, he and two friends went to enlist in the Army; the recruiting stations were closed, overwhelmed with people who reacted to the horrific scenes on their televisions.

But Martinez persevered. He went to Tampa and filled out the paperwork, and then he waited.

A decade earlier, he’d had open-heart surgery and had been advised to limit future physical activity. He’d ignored this advice, listening instead to his mother who told him not to let anything get in the way of his goals. It took him a few months to get a doctor to OK his military service.

In January 2005, he touched down in Iraq for his final tour in the army with the 3rd Infantry Division, assigned to a multinational joint special operations force along with elite fighters—Navy SEAL Team 6, Army’s Delta Force, and Britain’s Special Air Service—on a mission to take out al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq. He was part of a light-armored reconnaissance team. When his tour ended 13 months later, he was done with it. After seeing so much on the ground that the mass media didn’t report back home, he no longer believed in the mission.

The U.S. military had invaded to depose the regime, but they were still there.

“My whole last deployment, it was, ‘Let’s get everybody home,’ ” he says. He and his fellow soldiers weren’t fighting for Iraq or democracy or our freedom; they were fighting for each other to come home in one piece. “We were there for our brothers, not the mission.” Still, people were dying, and there was nothing he could do about it.

Finally, he came home. He was done with the military, but some of those elite fighters he met in Iraq were OGAs—other government agencies. Some were private contractors, and they made a lot of money—three or four times what ordinary soldiers took home.

He wanted the challenge, and the money was a bonus. So he tried out for Blackwater USA, the firm that contracted with the departments of Defense and State to provide security services overseas. At 23, he became the youngest person (at that time) to make it through the selection process.

“I could help the American mission and do it in the right way,” he says. He was assigned to embassy protection in Afghanistan. He was a sniper—officially, a designated defense marksman—part of a team that protected ambassadors, government officials, and politicians who visited the country. “Our mission was to get our principals out of harm’s way.”

Martinez was happy at Blackwater even if the company was catching a lot of flak for its employees’ alleged misdeeds (most of which, he says, were misreported). He did three tours in Afghanistan, 18 months in all. During one of his off stretches, he fell in love.

His girlfriend (now his wife) had had enough of wondering if every phone call would bring bad news. She wanted a normal life, which meant Martinez coming home.

So he came home. “When you retire from the military with my background you have two options,” he says. “Become a cop or a rent-a-cop. I never wanted to be a cop, and if I was going to become a rent-a-cop, I figured I should own the business.” He started a security company. Within a few months after receiving his first contract, he was providing security for six properties. Pretty soon he was hiring people, running a full-fledged business.

But he found himself still wanting more. He’s always been ambitious, but it was more than that. He could go back to school for free on the GI Bill. And he wanted to be a role model to his future kids; if he was going to tell them to get a degree, he should probably do the same.

Dana Thomas ’76, the mother of one of the buddies who enlisted with Martinez, encouraged him to enroll at Rollins. He was worried that he wouldn’t fit in. “The next thing I knew,” he says, “there I was.”

Martinez is set to graduate this year with a bachelor’s degree in international affairs and a minor in business. He’s not sure what’s next, but he is considering politics and public service. He’s pretty sure that most international conflicts cannot be solved through war. After sitting in meetings with high-level international diplomats, he believes conflicts are solved by “people in suits behind closed doors,” and that’s where he’d eventually like to be. It’s there that he thinks he can make a difference in the world.

The Yellow Ribbon Program At Rollins

Part of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, the Yellow Ribbon Program provides eligible student veterans with a tuition waiver or grant that is matched by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In conjunction with the GI Bill, it can provide up to 100 percent of the tuition, fees, and other education costs associated with earning a degree.

Arts & Sciences: 25
Hamilton Holt School: 17
Crummer Graduate School of Business: 09
Total Students: 51

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