Turning Tragedy into Triumph

Veteran J.R. Martinez Captivates County Audience during NACo Closing Remarks

J.R. Martinez speaks to county officials from across the country on July 22 during the National Association of Counties annual conference in Fort Worth.

Army Veteran J.R. Martinez closed off the National Association of Counties (NACo) 2013 County Solutions and Idea Marketplace conference in Fort Worth by discussing the decisions and life events that made him the motivational speaker, author and actor he is today. 

Raised by a single immigrant mother, Martinez, 30, said he spent most of his life wanting to be​ a professional football player but was unable to get the scholarships necessary to attend a top-tier university. In September 2002, at 19 years old, he decided to join the United States Army. He was deployed to Iraq in February 2003. Just two months later, the Humvee Martinez was driving hit a roadside bomb, trapping Martinez inside for several minutes. He was saved by his fellow soldiers but much of his body was severely burned. 

Martinez said he struggled with anger and fear, feeling victimized and believing he’d never accomplish the dreams he’d held on to for so long, until his mother pulled him up and convinced him to become a survivor. He began visiting other soldiers injured during combat and realized he had a new purpose, new dreams and new goals. Martinez is now a spokesperson for Operation Finally Home, an organization that builds homes for disabled veterans. He authored a memoir titled Full of Heart: My Story of Survival, Strength and Spirit and was one of People magazine’s 25 Most Intriguing People of 2011. 

Look for more in-depth coverage of the NACo conference in the September/October edition of County.