Dancing with the Stars Champ, Iraq War Vet J.R. Martinez & Operation Finally Home Moved by Wall Street Rocks' Donation to Help Wounded & Disabled Vets
Former Iraq War veteran-turned actor and Dancing with the Stars Season 13 champion, J.R. Martinez has wowed audiences with his slick dance moves alongside Karina Smirnoff, acting roles on ABC's All My Children, Lifetime's Army Wives to the nationally syndicated drama series, SAF3.
He's even nabbed the cover of People Magazine, been featured in their Sexiest Man Alive issue and one of the magazine's 25 Most Intriguing People of 2011.
But there's so much more to him than the spotlight he's received in Hollywood.
Like the Dancing with the Star's mirror ball trophy, there are flickers of light that have reflected off his onscreen success, transcending into incredible opportunities that help fellow wounded and disabled vets and burn victims like himself, who are in desperate need of financial and emotional support.
In March of 2003, Martinez was deployed to Iraq and on April 5, less than a month into his deployment, the life as he knew it would change forever. While driving a Humvee in Karbala, his left front tire hit a roadside bomb. The three other soldiers were ejected from the burning vehicle, but he was trapped inside and suffered smoke inhalation and severe burns to 34 percent of his body.
Martinez was rushed to a local medic station in Iraq and then to Landstuhl, Germany. He spent 34 months in recovery surgery at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio. Since then, he has undergone 33 different surgeries, including skin grafts and cosmetic surgery.
It's been tough yet rewarding journey for Martinez, who is of Salvadoran decent -- yet he didn't waste any time paying it forward.
In addition to being a best-selling author (for his memoir, Full of Heart: My Story of Survival, Strength, pirit), Martinez is a bilingual motivational speaker who is also involved with Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, Rebuilding America's Warriors (R.A.W.) and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. More recently, his role as a spokesperson for Operation Finally Home, an organization that builds mortgage-free homes for disabled veterans, became even more gratifying.
On March 26, James Macedonio, Leslie Kirby and George Chrisafis, co-founders of Wall Street Rocks ("a unique collaboration of employees across the financial, technology and entertainment industry focused on supporting heroic Americans who serve our nation") presented Operation Finally Home Executive Director Daniel Vargas and Martinez with a check for $50,000 at The Sanctuary Hotel in New York City.
The good cause came with some good tunes -- the money raised to support the work of Operation Finally Home, came from Wall Street Rocks' Battle of the Bands events that took place throughout 2013 and culminated with a benefit performance at Irving Plaza in December featuring Sugar Ray.
"I have been involved with them (Operation Finally Home) for six years. It's amazing. We have been able to build a lot of homes for a lot of service members and a lot of families," Martinez told Latin Post.
"It's really difficult for a lot of service members after you are injured and you are in a medical facility recovering. For a lot of them that have spouses, the spouses become the caregivers. So, unfortunately the spouses are unable to work, so you're fixated on that (one) income that the service member is receiving from the military while they are in the hospital."
When a veteran is released from the hospital, it's a "tough transition," especially if you are still relying on one income, he added. Martinez also pointed out the high unemployment rate among returning service members.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics/U.S. Department of Labor, in 2013, the unemployment rate of veterans varied by state, ranging from over 10 percent in Michigan and New Jersey to under 4 percent in Delaware, Iowa, North Dakota, Vermont, and Virginia.
The unemployment rate affects all ages -- "among the 722,000 unemployed veterans in 2013, 60 percent were age 45 and over. Thirty-five percent were age 25 to 44, and 5 percent were age 18 to 24."
While the unemployment rate for female veterans declined to 6.9 percent in 2013 and the rate for male veterans edged down to 6.5 percent, among overall veterans, there is still an ongoing concern.
It's also important to note that "veterans with a service-connected disability had an unemployment rate of 6.2 percent in August 2013, little different than the rate for veterans with no disability."
With these hurdles and continuous unemployment, Operation Finally Home is a huge help for returning vets in need of a home and are finding that transitioning to the civilian world is very difficult.
"To be able to give them keys to a home... it's not necessarily just the keys to the front door, but it's keys to the door of opportunity," Martinez adds. "It's one less thing that you can have taken off their plate, you are saying 'now you can focus on being a family' and have the leverage, if it's going to take you longer to find employment.'"
While $50,000 doesn't seem like it's a large enough amount to build a home, in this case it is considering Operation Finally Home builds custom-made, mortgage-free homes by bringing together corporate sponsors, builders associations, builders, developers and volunteers. Therefore, the $50,000 will help put the collaborative effort's wheels in motion.
"What Wall Street Rocks is doing -- presenting this $50,000 check to Operation Finally Home -- and what they have done is amazing," Martinez said. "This is an opportunity for our organization to get the word out to this community, especially to this area (New York). We all get caught up in the hustle and bustle of it all. So it's great that Wall Street Rocks has stepped it up and said, 'we're going to raise this money and donate it to Operation Finally Home.'"
(For more information on Operation Finally Home, please visit www.operationfinallyhome.org)