It's been a long journey of unexpected surprises and triumphs for J.R. Martinez since he joined the Army in 2002. He was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division in 2003 when an explosion rocked his truck, resulting in severe burns to 34 percent of his body. He spent 34 months in recovery at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC/SAMC) in San Antonio, Texas, and has undergone 34 different surgeries, including skin grafts and cosmetic surgery, in the years since his injury. Since his transition out of the military, he has gone on to be an in-demand motivational speaker, an actor (most notably in the TV series All My Children, and a participant in Dancing with the Stars, where he was named the season 13 champion.
J.R. will be a featured speaker at the Heroes Work Here conference in Chicago on Nov. 3, geared towards helping employers build and implement an effective veteran and military-spouse hiring program. The free one-day workshop is an opportunity for human resources professionals, recruiters and senior-level representatives to listen, learn and network with national thought leaders from various employers, government agencies and veteran support organizations. For more details on the conference and to attend, see this site. We had an opportunity to talk to J.R. about his life since the military, and about the event.
Military.com: It's been over three years since you sustained your injuries – how have things been progressing for you physically, mentally and emotionally?
Dark, joyful, proud, and surreal. These words represent the struggle from my recovery and finding my new purpose, to the joy of finding it and taking advantage of opportunities. Surreal has been this whole experience, especially the last four years. During those dark days I allowed myself to be in the moment because it’s part of the acceptance process and then I would take a deep breath and walk out of my apartment, and into the world seeking opportunities.
As a motivational speaker, you talk to service members and veterans all around the country – how would you advise them to “adapt and overcome” when it comes to transitioning out of the military?
The biggest thing I share with vets is to connect with a non-profit that does great work and helps them focus on an area that needs nourishing. I will also connect them with other vets who are now retired. It’s easy to fall away from a community and quickly feel disconnected. However, if you have a support network of others who have been down that road it’s helpful. In the military, missions don’t always go as planned. You must rely on your training and your battle buddies, and in this new battle it’s important to have those you can rely on to help you adapt! Also, and just as important, talk about your feelings, which will begin to surface now that you’re away from the day-to-day military life. Address them!
How did you come to be involved with the upcoming Heroes Work Here Conference?
My agent introduced me to a person who is part of the planning committee. When i learned about Easter seals, Disney and all of the other executives i knew i wanted to be involved.
What do you hope to communicate to participants and employers at the conference?
That their military career doesn’t define them, it’s a part of them! A lot of the experiences in the military can help them in the civilian world. They must understand if they want results they have to do their part as well, and not expect non-military personnel to get them and do the work for them.
Do you have a general message or piece of advice for veterans out there who are struggling to find a job?
You aren’t entitled to getting a job, you’re entitled to an opportunity so do away with that mentality (if you have it). Don’t expect employers to understand what you can bring to their companies. Take the role of an educator and help them understand what value you bring. Be open to the unexpected, because I sure didn’t plan to become an actor, author, motivational speaker, and somewhat of a celebrity -- but I was open to the unexpected.
For more on J.R. Martinez, visit his official site.