USS Iwo Jima, GULF OF ADEN—Marines are taught to adapt and
overcome; it's one of the mantras used to keep going when the going
gets tough. For some Marines, they learn the hard lessons of
overcoming adversity long before they step on the yellow footprints
at a Marine Corps Recruit Depot.
Sgt. Joseph W. Martin, a
combat veteran, Purple Heart recipient, and the assault section
leader for Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th
Marine Expeditionary Unit, is a man who already faced a lifetime of
hardship, in and out of the Marine Corps but now his biggest
obstacle may be re-enlisting.
Sergeant Joseph W. Martin, the assault section leader for Lima Company, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), April 22, 2015. Martin is deployed with the 24th MEU and deployed to maintain regional security in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joey Mendez)
It started when Martin was a baby and his mother took him
and his siblings away from an abusive father in Georgia and
moved to Vermont to start a happier and safer life. His
mother met and fell in love with a man named Pete, who
Martin says was a wild-eyed man caught up in a crazy life of
Their new life was nothing short of
turbulent. Martin recalls one day when his mother exclaimed
they needed to pack their belongings because they were going
on a field trip. The field trip was an abrupt move from
Vermont to Colorado.
Martin remembers one day when, while
he was at school, the FBI and local law enforcement raided
their home outside Denver and arrested Pete for murder.
For the next six months, Martin's mother moved him and
his siblings from place to place, sometimes leaving them at
gas stations for several hours a day. Martin's family soon
moved back to Vermont.
The chaotic lifestyle
exacerbated Martin's mother's dependence on drugs and
alcohol and, in the winter of 1992, his mother, while
intoxicated, fell through the tracks of a train bridge to
her death. Martin was just 13 years old.
“I felt a
sense of pure and absolute hopelessness,” said Martin. “My
entire world felt as if it imploded.”
siblings kept the family afloat for several months before
the state of Vermont found them and put them into Casey
Family Services, a private organization which helped
children who faced difficult times find a better home.
“Casey [Family Services] is probably the main reason I
was able to advance in life. They took me away from a life
with no structure and moved me to places with a great
foundation,” said Martin. “The first guy I lived with, Paul
Keen, was a big part of that.”
Keen was an English
professor at a university in Hartford, Vermont, and provided
Martin with his first home with a stable environment.
“Keen was just an awesome guy and added a ton of
structure to my life in just the six months I lived with
him,” said Martin.
Martin found his second and
permanent family in 1993, when he was 14 years old, with
Earl and Nancy Townsend, who he considers his parents.
Martin loved the Townsends and lived a great life, one that
included summer camps and any activity he dreamed of doing.
Unfortunately, disaster struck in 2001 when Nancy suffered a
fatal heart attack. Martin lost his second mother in just a
little over ten years.
By the time Nancy passed, I'd
already lost my biological mom, so I treated death like a
normal thing. I missed [Nancy] but I just had to move on,
said Martin. “Life is too precious, I wanted to keep a
positive attitude and keep going.”
In 2003, Martin
graduated high school and joined the Marine Corps.
Joseph W. Martin, left, now a Marine sergeant and assault section leader for Lima Company, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, poses with a friend in front of their trailer before joining the Marine Corps in 2003. Martin has overcome a number of obstacles in his life in and outside the Marine Corps, including an IED blast in Iraq and a battle alongside Nicole as they fight her Multiple Sclerosis. (Courtesy photo
by U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Joseph W. Martin)
“I didn't know what to do with my life. I was a rebel kid who didn't care
about school and had a passion for explosives. I had homemade fireworks—not that
they are explosives—but when I was a little kid I couldn't help but think they
were. And I loved G.I. Joe,” said Martin, laughing. “I was thinking about the
Army or the Navy until the Marine recruiter came to my house and told me how
cool the Marine Corps was. He also told me all women love Marines and I just
couldn't say no.”
After boot camp and infantry training, Martin deployed
in June 2004 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom with 1st Battalion, 8th
Marine Regiment. After two months in Iraq, tragedy struck again.
Humvee Martin was traveling in was blown up by an IED, killing his sergeant and
injuring him and two other Marines. Martin's chin was almost completely torn off
in the explosion. His jaw was broken, and a piece of shrapnel struck him square
between the eyebrows, peeling the skin off his forehead and the top of his
He does not remember much about the blast. He said it was a rough
time, but he remained positive, he recovered and returned to duty. He deployed
again in 2005, with the 24th MEU aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo
Jima, and took part in humanitarian assistance for Hurricane Katrina.
post-deployment trip to Boston with some friends finally provided Martin with
some fortune when he met a woman named Nicole, who is now his wife.
thought after Boston we were never going to see each other again,” he said. “But
[she came to] Fleet Week in New York that same month and we began a three-year
long distance relationship.”
In 2009, Martin's performance and work ethic
earned him a spot as an instructor at the School of Infantry. According to one
of his three Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal citations, Sgt. Martin
“distinguished himself among his peers” while training more than 2,500
entry-level Marines for the rigors of Marine infantry. He also worked as an
assaultman section chief—a billet reserved for a staff sergeant, one rank senior
But tragedy was never far away and in 2011, Martin lost Earl
Townsend, the man he considers his father, to complications with diabetes.
“I miss him. I miss talking on the phone with him,” said Martin. “But since
I met my wife, I told myself as quickly as a parent can die and crush your whole
world, you can walk down the street and find your soul mate who will build your
world back up.”
In 2012, Sgt. Martin took a group of 41 Marines and built
a combat effective infantry line platoon in three weeks, deploying to Jordan as
a platoon sergeant as a part of Task Force Jordan. Upon his return, Martin went
back to teaching Marines, this time at the Marine Corps' Jungle Warfare Training
Center. When there was a gap in the chief instructor billet at JWTC,
Martin—still a sergeant—filled it.
This time the billet was reserved for
a gunnery sergeant, two ranks above him. He received another award for
maintaining “remarkable initiative and enthusiasm.”
The reason Martin is
still a sergeant is no fault of his own. His occupational specialty is a small
one and promotions have been extremely slow the last several years. That, and
personnel drawdowns across the Department of Defense since 2013, makes Martin's
promotion opportunities unclear. In fact, Martin is not in zone for promotion
and is and is facing service limitations, meaning he cannot reenlist unless he
Over the last four years, Martin deployed and extended his
current enlistment waiting for a chance at a promotion. In the meantime, his
leaders have not stopped trying to get him promoted—Martin is nominated for a
meritorious promotion to staff sergeant by his company and battalion commanders,
as well as the 24th MEU commander.
April 30, 2015 - Sergeant Joseph W. Martin, the assault section leader for Lima Company, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, takes a “selfie” in Okinawa while he was a chief instructor for Jungle Warfare Training in 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sergeant Joseph W. Martin)
In a brief conversation with Martin, you'll learn his desire for
promotion is not selfish. Two years ago, while deployed to Okinawa,
his wife was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis which temporarily
blinded her for three months.
Again, Martin remained
positive. He said a silver lining is that Duke University, only a
little over an hour away from Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he is based,
is one of the best treatment facilities for MS. It's one of the
reasons he hopes to get promoted, stay in Camp Lejeune, and remain a
“I also really love my job,” said Martin. “I
have a passion for being a Marine and blowing [things] up.”
Martin was just approved for a seven-month contract extension and he
expects to be up for promotion this year. Either way, he is prepared
for his future.
“If I can't re-enlist, I'll take care of my
wife, but I also want to complete the Triple Crown which is a 7,500
mile trek along the Appalachian Trail, the Central Divide Trail, and
the Pacific Crest Trail,” he said. “I'll walk back into civilian
life—start the hike with a high and tight Marine haircut and let it
transform into a beard and long hair.”
Martin says if he gets
promoted and is allowed to remain a Marine, he wants to complete a
different type of Triple Crown by joining 2nd Marine Regiment, the
only remaining regiment on the east coast in which he has not
Martin is deployed again with the 24th
MEU, aboard the Iwo Jima, maintaining regional security in the U.S.
5th Fleet area of operations.
By U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Joey Mendez
The U.S. Marines
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