Last year, while introducing a number of College of the Canyons students, including several Veterans, to our Fallen Warriors Monument Proposal, I had the pleasure of meeting Manuel Martinez. And recently, we finally met at Awesometown’s Corner Bakery where we carried on for almost three hours discussing his war experiences and what prompted him to become a U.S. Army Paratrooper. Manny is clearly a delightful, patriotic young man and an asset to our community. Freedom in the U.S.A. Manny E. Martinez was born March 13, 1988, in San Salvador where he spent his first 13 years before his family immigrated to the United States. They moved to the San Fernando Valley where he resumed his education. First, Manny attend Pacoima Middle School, but then his family moved to Santa Clarita and he began attending Hart High School. His mother, now a divorcee, struggled to make ends meet so they moved often ending up back in the San Fernando Valley a year later. Manny ultimately graduated from Reseda’s John R. Wooden High School in January 2008. During his senior year, Manny enlisted in the U.S. Army on their delayed entry program and he actually missed his graduation ceremony because he was already off to Basic Training. Motivated by 9/11 At age 13, Manny witnessed on TV the horrendous 9/11 terrorist attack resulting in a lasting impact on him which is why he was eager to support his new country which he came to love very much. Manny could not wait to enter Basic Training which began Feb. 2, 2008. “I could not imagine myself being here and enjoying America’s freedom and not doing anything about those terrorists,” Manny said. “I’m not one to sit on the sidelines.” Manny took Basic and Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he scored high marks enabling him to pursue most any job function, but he chose infantry because he wanted into combat as soon as possible. Next, he was asked if he was interested in the Airborne. Once it was explained that he must parachute from airplanes he jumped at the opportunity (pun intended). Also, he was offered an assignment to a Ranger Battalion, but he stuck with the Airborne. Infantry Patrols out of Baghdad Manny was sent back to Reseda, California after jump school to assist recruiting new troops for a few weeks and to visit his family before reporting to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Because the 82nd’s initial unit in World War I had members from all 48 States, it was nicknamed All-American – which is the basis for its famed AA Patch. Famous soldiers of the 82nd include Sergeant Alvin York and 5 Star General of the Army, Omar Bradley whom I briefly personally spoke with during my 1967 Vietnam tour of duty. One of Manny’s highlights was meeting 4 Star General Raymond Odierno in Iraq. Next Manny was promptly sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana for a short stint and then back to Fort Bragg before deploying as a Private 2nd Class to Iraq Dec. 9, 2008, 10 months after joining the Army. Manny’s unit was based in Baghdad and soon, using High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles known as Humvees. He participated in routine, but, risky patrols searching for Al-Qaeda terrorists. M240B Machine Gun During Ramadan, which requires Muslims to fast, Manny went on his very first patrol out of Baghdad and his Platoon Leader and First Sergeant’s Humvees were slammed by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). Luckily, no one was injured though this incident sent a strong message to Manny to stay on high alert. Often he manned a M240B Machine Gun which is heavier than comparable weapons, but it’s highly regarded for reliability and on one occasion a suspicious vehicle was zooming straight toward his Humvee. “Manny, what are you going to do? What are you going to do?” his squad leader yelled. Because combat rules of engagement were so restrictive, and because Manny was told that you only fire when fired upon, he was initially confused. However, he made the right decision to open up which brought that hard driving vehicle to an abrupt stop. The driver slowly got out and raised his arms. Manny, at age 20, allowed him to re-enter his vehicle and drive away. Manny’s fellow soldiers were delighted with his direct reaction as they knew right then that he was trustworthy. They never determined whether that driver was Al-Qaeda or not, but the outcome was satisfactory. Meanwhile, Manny began experiencing hearing loss. Showers and Latrines Mortared During Manny’s Iraq tour, his Platoon’s base camp was regularly mortared sending troops scrambling for bunkers. It happened so often that they took it in stride. Sometimes those attacks were flat-out inconvenient such as the day they were showering. Al-Qaeda knew those showers and latrines were necessary for U.S. troops and probably presented easy targets as they were constantly hit. Sudden mortar attacks cause much confusion especially when naked soldiers are sprinting for cover. Conditions were harsh considering Iraq’s extreme heat, the bulky, heavy combat gear soldiers wore, cramped quarters, and lack of sleep. But Manny and his fellow troops were constantly on base camp guard duty or patrolling. Manny prided himself in his constant preparations for the next mission. “I never wanted to look bad so I always had my gear at the ready and my combat boots on,” he said. Black Hawks in Afghanistan Following Manny’s 12 month Iraq tour of duty, he returned to the U.S. for a three year stint before deploying to Afghanistan for a four month tour of duty with the 82nd Airborne Division. There, Manny’s unit went on air assault missions using Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters in search of Taliban terrorist fighters who strictly believed in Sharia Law. Most of Manny’s combat missions were at night time, which I believe was most daunting, however today’s combat infantry gear includes high quality night vision devices. Manny experienced numerous chaotic firefights and it always ended badly for the Taliban, though a number of Manny’s fellow troopers were wounded in action. Medical Discharge After Afghanistan, Manny went home for a leave of absence and then to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and then Fort Irwin National Training Center, California in July 2013 where he assisted in training troops. In early 2016, the Army determined Manny’s hearing loss was substantial enough that they placed him on standby. On July 26, 2016 he was medically discharged. Manny was devastated as he loved being a United States Soldier, so he sought help from an attorney to plead his case, though it was to no avail. Manny realizes that his hearing loss was due to his noisy, chaotic combat experiences; wearing two radios to communicate with his Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant only exacerbated his hearing issue. Manny, Bryna & Madelyn Sergeant Manuel E. Martinez’s military awards are: Combat Infantryman Badge, Parachutist Badge, Iraq Campaign Medal w/2 Stars, Afghanistan Campaign Medal w/1 Star, 3 Army Commendation Medals, 4 Army Achievement Awards, Meritorious Unit Commendation, 2 Good Conduct Medals, National Defense Service Medal, and Global War on Terrorism Medal. Manny remains very proud of his service and these days he and his lovely wife Bryna are attending college thanks to the GI Bill and both intend to become Santa Clarita teachers where they have lived since August 2016. Welcome to Santa Clarita, Manny, Bryna and Madelyn Martinez!