Born in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1983, Martinez was a bright athletic boy who dreamed of a career as a professional football player. An injury in his senior year put that dream to rest. However, Martinez didn’t give up. In 2002, he enlisted in the U.S. Army—eager to serve his country. In 2003, Martinez was deployed to Iraq. There, the Humvee that he was driving struck a landmine—engulfing the vehicle in flames. J.R. Martinez suffered burns to over forty percent of his body. The next thirty-four months were spent in recovery in San Antonio where he received thirty-two surgeries to repair the damage caused by the fire. Even today, Martinez undergoes occasional surgical procedures to restore not only his appearance, but his quality of life.
In 2004, J.R. Martinez was named National Spokesperson for the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes. Martinez works with the coalition to raise awareness for fundraising efforts that will help support and rehabilitate soldiers whose lives have been disrupted and altered by injury.
Through his work with the CSAH, Martinez came to the attention of casting directors at ABC who were looking for an actor to play a wounded Iraq veteran. While he had no acting experience, Martinez’s upbeat attitude and obvious determination landed him the part. The character he plays, Brot, is a positive representation of a veteran of combat, showing that life can continue no matter what the odds.
Though no one would want to endure what J.R. Martinez has experienced, he doesn’t regret what happened. In fact, he sees it as a blessing, realizing that our humanity is defined by more than our appearance. His outlook, his good works, his courage and his gentle soul make J.R. Martinez this week’s “Humanitarian of the Week.”