- The Washington Times - Friday, October 1, 2004

The past 17 months have been an emotional and physical whirlwind for Jose Martinez.

After 27 surgical procedures ranging from skin grafts to cosmetic surgery, Cpl. Martinez is attempting to rebuild the life he had before enlisting in the Army in September of 2002.

Cpl. Martinez was driving a Humvee with three other soldiers in Karbala, Iraq, on April 5, 2003, when the vehicle hit a land mine, setting the Humvee on fire and trapping him inside. He suffered severe burns to more than 40 percent of his body, namely his head, face, and arms.

It was at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio where Cpl. Martinez began his long ordeal of therapy and healing. It was also there that he made the decision to make the most out of his life, despite the new state of his body.

Cpl. Martinez became a spokesman for the McLean-based Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, an independent, nonpartisan organization created to helping wounded veterans overcome obstacles and resume a productive and fulfilling life upon their return home from the war.

The corporal spent his time at Brooke talking with wounded soldiers, sharing his story, and providing a glimpse of hope to lives that may have appeared shattered by irreversible injuries.

“I made the decision to wear my scars with great honor and pride,” he said. “I was kept in this world for a reason, and I want to use my story to help other soldiers know that they can still have a life upon returning home.”

The coalition, founded this past spring, provides an easy way for individuals and organizations to offer tax-deductible donations to support troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With the help of many individuals and organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Restaurants, Business Roundtable, National Association of Wholesale Distributors, and the National Association of Manufacturers, the coalition developed conferences and job-placement opportunities to get wounded soldiers back on their feet. It also finds homes for paralyzed victims and assists families visiting their wounded loved ones in military hospitals, as well as many other initiatives.

Coalition founder and President Roger Chapin spearheaded the effort by providing the seed money for the organization.

“In Vietnam, our soldiers came home to a very hostile public where they were almost ashamed to wear their uniforms,” Mr. Chapin said. “We don’t want that to happen again. We hope to assist in helping to rebuild the lives of these wounded soldiers.”

This December, the coalition will send up to 400 of the most seriously wounded and disabled troops of the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters, as well as their families, on an all-expenses-paid trip to Walt Disney World in Florida for its First Annual Road to Recovery Conference.

“[This conference] will especially focus on getting these guys in the right direction,” Mr. Chapin said. “A lot of guys get back from war and have a tendency to retreat into isolation, take their disability check and say ‘the heck with it.’ … We don’t want these guys to just get by. We want them to have meaningful, productive lives, and giving them the right help is crucial.”

The trips will be funded by private and business donations. Retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks and actors Gary Sinise and Michael Douglas are already offering their support.

“The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines all came together to serve this great country,” Cpl. Martinez said. “Now, the American people should come together and serve our great troops.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide