Iraq War veteran J.R. Martinez reflects on journey

By Ryan Cornell

WINCHESTER — Despite the burn scars that cover half of his face, Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival Firefighters’ Parade Marshal J.R. Martinez describes himself as blessed.

“People are shocked when I can even use that word, when you can see what you see on my body, but I have been very blessed that I don’t deal with the internal scars, which I believe in a lot of ways are more difficult to recover from and heal from,” he said.

A U.S. Army veteran of the Iraq War, Martinez, 30, was driving a Humvee on April 5, 2003, when its left front tire hit a roadside bomb.

In the 11 years since the incident, he said he’s recounted it so often to friends, family and strangers — Martinez travels up to 300 days a year as a motivational speaker — that he’s become comfortable with it as “just another day, just another thing in my life.”

“We have this stigma, where if you go and you talk to this licensed professional, if you go and talk to somebody, that’s essentially a sign of weakness,” he said. “We have to start being more aware and more accepting of people who need to talk about certain things.”

What happens over time, he said, is you have these guys who are trying to travel through life on a plane, but they’re carrying too much luggage.

“And when you travel these days, you gotta pack properly because if you try to bring too much luggage, they’re going to charge you for that, and you may not be able to take off because it’s going to weigh the plane down,” he said. “You may not reach the new destination.”

In addition to his motivational speaking, Martinez won Season 13 of “Dancing With the Stars” in 2011 and is an actor on the TV series, “SAF3.”

He said he wants to focus more on acting, hosting and spending time with his daughter, Lauryn Anabelle, who celebrated her second birthday on Friday.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or