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Badly injured in combat, J. R. Martinez says: "I was a mess, but now I'm a message"
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Vet views scars as a badge of courage
If you are a fan of the soap opera All My Children, then you are familiar with J.R. Martinez. He is the actor who plays Brot Monroe, who purportedly served in Iraq in the U. S. Army and was injured in combat. As you know, if you watch the show, he fell in love with Lt. Taylor Thompson, but, following the accident, he chose to let her believe that he had not survived the incident. Eventually, the couple was reunited but the relationship didn’t work out and they went their separate ways on the show.
J. R.’s, aka Jose Rene, own story is actually quite similar to the story of the character he plays. He was serving in the U. S. Army in Iraq in 2003 when the left front tire of the Humvee he was driving ran over a land mine. The three fellow soldiers who were in the vehicle with him were thrown out but J. R. remained trapped inside. He received burns over 40 percent of his body. Though the other three soldiers escaped without physical injury, it did affect them mentally.
J. R. had enlisted in the army in September 2002 after high school, much to the chagrin of his mother. He had hoped to go to college and play football, but his poor grades and lack of college prep coursework made that scenario unlikely. When he was deployed to Iraq in February 2003, he promised his mother, an El Salvadoran native, that he would return in one piece. Of course, “one piece” could turn out to mean a lot of different things, including one piece in a casket. He did return in one piece alive, however, but badly injured. His mother remained at his side during the almost three years of hospitalization he received at Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. He eventually came to believe that the injury was a blessing in disguise! In addition, he views his scars as kind of a badge of courage.
It took a while, though, for him to get back on top. When he was in the hospital, he couldn’t move or do anything for himself. He was totally dependent on his mother and the hospital staff. His mother would sit there every night watching a Spanish soap opera on the TV. One day he kiddingly said, “One day I’m going to be on a soap opera, mom.” His lowest point came the day he first looked at himself in the mirror. The skins on his face, arms, hands and chest had melted away in the explosion and had to be replaced with a series of skins grafts. One of his ears was missing. He was devastated with his new face and lost his will to live, but his mother helped him to begin to view his new life positively.
Now J. R. has the most amazing attitude for someone who has experienced such prodigious challenges. Before the accident, he was nicknamed “pretty boy” because of his baby-faced handsomeness. Now, after 32 operations consisting of extensive facial surgery and skin grafting over a period of 34 months, his face is quite altered in appearance and badly scarred. However, despite his marred appearance, because of his dynamic personality and attitude he is actually quite attractive!
J. R. primary commitment nowadays is to helping fellow servicemen. He is the national spokesperson for the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, a nonprofit organization that serves veterans who have been seriously wounded or disabled in Afghanistan or Iraq. He has also traveled the country as a motivational speaker.
He was chosen to join the cast of All My Children after being one of 600 people to try out for the part. His character’s injuries were designed to conform to his own. He sees his soap opera role as an extension of his motivational messages. “We’re educating America about the things the troops go through every day,” he explained. Martinez also provides input for the show’s writers to ensure the store line is authentic.
When questioned about the challenges he has faced he says you don’t know what you are capable of enduring until you are faced with it. He says only in America can you go from nearly losing your life to becoming a soap opera star. “I was a mess,” he says, “But now I’m a message.”