Thomas R. Martinez

I am a third-generation Army man.

My grandfather served in the Army during World War II.

My dad, Ralph, worked for a engineering battalion just as the Korean War was ending, clearing explosives from minefields among other duties.

Me? I signed up for the Army to earn money to finish college.

My recruiting sergeant made me this promise: “Oh, you’ll never see action. We live in peaceful times.”

Back in the day, when you were doing your in-take paperwork, you were able to fill out a wish list: three places in the U.S. and three overseas where you wanted to be stationed. I chose New York, Washington state and Hawaii; and I thought Germany and Korea would be cool places, too.

In all its infinite wisdom, the Army sent me to my home state, stationing me at Fort Carson, Colorado.

For a military career, I signed up to be a legal specialist. That’s sort of the equivalent to a paralegal in the civilian world. I got busy, becoming an expert on non-judicial punishment and transcribing military court cases for the Judge Advocate General’s office.

It didn’t last long.

Less than a year after joining the Army, I was in the Saudi Arabian desert wondering what I did to get there.

As we exited the airplane to the tarmac, it was scary, exciting, life-changing.

It was surreal.

I was attached to the most mobile military police battalion in the Army, so I didn’t think I was going to perform a lot of legal work in the desert. It turns out I didn’t.

 (Side note: Here’s a little about how the Army is structured. A regiment is made up of two or more battalions. A battalion is made of four or more companies. A company is made up of two or platoons. A platoon consists of two or more squads.)

So now I’m a legal specialist assigned to a mobile MP battalion. As a legal specialist, I was in the support company, which handles the logistics, supplies, etc.

Turns out, I was good at being a mailman. We moved around Saudi Arabia, training for a potential ground war, first from the desert near Dhahran, then to King Khalid Military City, and finally near the border of Saudi and Iraq.

I spent long days driving around the Saud Arabian desert, going from our temporary post to the nearest make-shift military post office. During those long days, I made good friendships with soldiers, talking about various things like our home states, our allegiances, sports, our spouses or girlfriends.

A lot of the training we did in Saudi went for naught, as Desert Shield turned into Desert Storm, we just didn’t see a lot of action. The month-long airstrikes softened the already soft Iraqi army. The ground war actually lasted only four days.

Besides mail duty, I joined others in clearing out Iraqi military bunkers, processing enemy prisoners of war and had my share of guard duty.

We did see images that reminded us that War is real. While out scouting locations of enemy bunkers, we’d come across the occasional burned out enemy vehicle, a lot of which were taken out during the airstrikes or mortar fire and left the all-to-real remains of the enemy soldiers.

Let me tell you this: The pictures on TV or movies about war just don’t do the real thing justice. War is indeed hell.

But, I actually grew to enjoy the day-to-day operations and duties during the war. Because we didn’t see a lot of fighting, we didn’t have a lot of casualties. My unit had none, and lot we did hear about were from accidents leading up to the war.

The soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan now have it much worse than we did. They are indeed heroes, and may God bless them.

All told, we were over there about six months before we were assigned to go back home. I finished out my time at Fort Carson, and went back to college.

But at least I finally got to see some of the world.

I, like many veterans, am proud of my service. It taught me about discipline, courage and responsibility among other things.

I learned about history and saw my dad and grandfather’s service in a different light: it was more real, more personal.

I am honoring both this year in our special upcoming Veterans salute. If you would like to honor a veteran, call us here at 362-552-9788. It’s the least we can do to let them know that we appreciate their service and sacrifice.