Jose Martinez was a middle schooler in Moriarty, New Mexico, in 2001 when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. His father, who was in the Air Force, was immediately deployed to Iraq.
Martinez, the second oldest of six kids, decided to join the Army in 2008, shortly after his dad returned from Iraq. The following year, he was deployed to Afghanistan as a sniper, to help root out the Taliban. But war took its toll on his unit.
“You felt the highest highs and lowest lows,” he said. “We lost a lot of good people. When you accept death at a young age, life becomes different after that.”
After 13 months in Afghanistan, he and his fellow service members began battling a new enemy: suicide.
“For a lot of us, that’s when the fight really began,” said Martinez, who ended up at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. He was selected to serve in leadership positions in areas like suicide prevention, sexual harassment/assault reporting, and equal opportunity.
When he was discharged in November 2014 as a staff sergeant, Martinez moved to Fort Collins to work with intellectually and developmentally disabled people at Ability in Motion. He became a live-in support provider for a man with Down syndrome, whom he lives with to this day. But when Martinez lost one of his closest military friends to suicide in late 2015, he realized he needed to do more.
“That shook me up quite a bit,” Martinez recalled. “We’d lost almost as many guys to suicide as enemy fire. And you can’t just keep sitting around feeling bad about it. This is going to keep happening unless something changes. I made it my goal to help others.”
A first-generation college student, he initially enrolled at Front Range Community College because he was too intimidated by CSU. He transferred to CSU in spring 2018, and he’s graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in social work this month, with a 3.95 GPA and a host of honors. Martinez has held leadership positions at Adult Learners and Veterans Services, and served as a senior partner for Partners Mentoring Youth, mentoring two third-grade boys. He is on the School of Social Work’s Social Justice Committee and has received several scholarships. Now Martinez wants to pursue his graduate education in social work at CSU.
“Jose’s intrinsic desire to achieve, and serve, shows in his academics and his service work,” said social work Instructor Danielle Willis. “His kindness, leadership, and ability to work with his peers is by far above average.”
“I never thought I would make it, but my peers and professors were supportive, coaching me and mentoring me to pursue my goals with the veteran community,” Martinez said. “My little brother is a Marine in Hawaii. He’s coming to my graduation, and now he wants to go to college when he gets out, which makes me proud.”