Marine Sergeant Gabe Martinez: “Why I Became a Marine”

Why did you become a Marine?

For Sergeant Gabe Martinez, the question of “Why?” has driven him to face incredible challenges, make courageous sacrifices, and overcome impossible hardships.

Here’s why this hero chose to join the Marines.

To serve his country:

On September 11, 2001, as planes crashed into the World Trade Center, Gabe first learned the meaning of terrorism. He still remembers the blank looks on his teacher’s faces as America’s history split into a Before and an After. That day, Gabe’s life did the same.

Why would anyone do this? he wondered.

It was then Gabe decided that one day, he’d serve his country by joining the military. And his commitment never wavered.

To fulfill his calling to protect:

While still in high school, Gabe enlisted in the Marines and left for bootcamp only months after graduation. He deployed shortly after as a combat engineer with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. For eight months, Gabe’s unit traveled to multiple countries, partnering with the Navy on anti-piracy missions. Gabe said, “That time really gave me an opportunity to see what being a Marine means.”

 To bravely fight terrorism:

 In 2010, Gabe had recently extended his contract with the Marines after hearing reports of the war in Afghanistan.

This is why I joined the Marines – to fight terrorism, he thought.

Gabe deployed to Afghanistan with the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, but just 48 days into his service, he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) while sweeping for buried explosives in Marjah, a Taliban stronghold. After Gabe was blown several yards into the air, his best friend and fellow Marine attempted to come to his aid but stepped on an additional IED.

Both Marines lost their legs that day.

That day, the question of why meant far more than ever.

 To sacrifice for a greater cause:

 While being medevaced to safety, Gabe called the love of his life, Kayla, whom he’d married only three months before. Gabe shared about the IED and that he believed he’d lost both legs, and Kayla, helpless and uncertain of what the future would hold, awaited news of her husband as he returned home.

To show what it means to never give up, even in the midst of hardship: 

 While Gabe recovered at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Kayla learned of Semper Fi & America’s Fund and immediately reached out.

That day, Gabe, Kayla, and The Fund became partners.

After stabilizing, Gabe transferred to San Diego’s Balboa Naval Medical Center for rehabilitation, and The Fund provided him with adaptive equipment upon learning that Gabe wished to return to the active lifestyle he’d known prior to his injuries. Gabe soon became a valued member of The Fund’s sports program — Team Semper Fi. Now having competed in several handcycling marathons, he’s also an avid rock climber, skier, and cyclist.

“The Fund focuses on mind, body, and spirit,” Gabe said. “They have truly helped me with all aspects of recovery.”

To always be an example of fortitude and strength:

 Today, Gabe and Kayla live in Colorado with their three children. The Fund helped Gabe find an internship that eventually led to his current job with Homeland Security, and Gabe and Kayla have also been on several of The Fund’s retreats, including the Couple’s Retreat and the Caregiver’s Retreat. With the beauty of the Rocky Mountains serving as this incredible family’s backdrop, Gabe stays active and one day, plans to teach his children to ski.

“There are so many examples I could give of how The Fund has been there over the years. They help individuals like me regain that independence and have a new mission — that’s really the biggest thing,” Gabe said. “They truly are family. I love them like they are my own family.”

Why Gabe chose to serve our country are the same reasons why The Fund chooses to honor our nation’s heroes — inspired by their grit, courage, and sacrifice, we are privileged to call Gabe, Kayla, and their children cherished members of our Fund Family.

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