In the spring of 2003, the 1st Marine Division drove north toward Baghdad – the tip of the spear that would lead the American assault against Saddam Hussein’s elite Fedayeen and Republican Guard throughout central Iraq. It was no easy road. Then-Cpl. Martinez’s actions during the battle of Tarmiya dealt the regime’s forces a serious blow – so much so that he was awarded the Navy Cross, the second-highest decoration in the United States armed forces.
On April 12, 2003, Martinez, serving with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, responded to a call to reinforce a platoon that had been ambushed. Under fire, Martinez moved his team into supporting positions to assault the enemy force. He eliminated two hostile fighters on the initial attack after his squad leader was wounded by a grenade blast. Martinez took control and led the assault into the area where the ambush had originated. Martinez and his outnumbered men moved through and cleared a nearby building occupied by enemy fighters. As they entered another compound they took stronger small-arms fire from the hostile forces inside. Martinez and his men fought their way through the building and into a courtyard, where the Fedayeen continued to engage the Marines from a garden shed.
Martinez saw that the enemy left a rocket propelled grenade launcher and two rounds on the ground on their way to the bunker. As his team provided cover fire, Martinez ventured into the open and grabbed the RPG launcher and sprinted behind a palm tree. After enemy fire wounded a member of his team, Martinez fired an RPG, 15 yards from the shed. The hostile forces continued targeting Martinez – but his assault had allowed his men to safely evacuate the wounded Marine. While the rest of the team took care of the injured man, Martinez single-handedly attacked the bunker. Dodging bullets, he ran up to the shed and lobbed a grenade into the building, killing four enemy forces and ending the firefight.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England presented Martinez with the Navy Cross in May 2004. The first Hispanic-American to receive the Navy Cross since the Vietnam War, Martinez repeatedly credits the Marine Corps for turning his life around. Having been a member of a gang for several years as a teenager, Martinez became drawn to the Marines after an encounter with a recruiter as a high-school senior. Today, Martinez emphatically states that “All I ever am, or will become, I owe to my beloved Corps.”