CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES

Cold War / Post-9/11

Jorge J. Martinez

Cold War / Post-9/11 Oral History Interview
US Army, New Jersey Army National Guard
Date: March 5, 2018
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Hayley Branstrom 

Summary

{This interview only covered the years of service until the National Guard’s response to 9/11/01. His last decade of his military career is still to be recorded.}

COL (R) Jorge J. Martinez

Colonel (Ret) Jorge J. Martinez was born in Camaguey, Cuba in 1953. At age 15, he boarded a “Freedom Flight” which allowed him to leave the island for Spain, where he stayed for about seven months, before he came to the United States as a political refugee and has lived here ever since. It was this personal history that contributed to Martinez joining the New Jersey National Guard in 1975. He wanted to give back to the country he loved, and the National Guard was ideal for him. Martinez had elderly relatives who relied on him, and he could remain close to them while serving.

Martinez did his basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. The environment was jarring for him, because in addition to moving from civilian to military life, he was experiencing a different culture than he had become used to in New Jersey. While at Fort Jackson, he became interested in flying, and the Army National Guard offered him a position at a time when aviation jobs were scarce. When his basic training was completed, Martinez went on to Advanced Individual Training at Fort Rucker, Alabama, where he trained as a helicopter mechanic.

When he returned to New Jersey, Martinez was assigned to Troop D, 117th Air Cavalry, in Westfield. The troop consisted of 200 men who flew and maintained several helicopters. Martinez enjoyed this position, because there were so many people he could learn from. He eventually became a crew chief. Martinez recalled weekend drills in which the troop flew out of Linden Airport, and either practiced tactical and formation flights or flew to Fort Dix for specific training. He also participated in cross-country flights, although the helicopters that Martinez flew in only held about two hours’ worth of fuel, so those flights had to be carefully planned in order to allow for frequent refueling. While stationed at Westfield, he successfully completed Officer Candidate School at Sea Girt, and was commissioned a second lieutenant.

NJ Cavalry

During his service, Martinez received news that flight school had been opened to components of the National Guard, which made him eligible for the program. He applied, yet had to wait about two years to go, due to such an influx of new applicants that the flight school struggled to keep up with each new class. In late 1981, Martinez received orders to attend flight school at Fort Rucker, which he described as the “Mecca” of aviation in the U.S. Army.

When Martinez returned to the 117th in New Jersey after completing flight school, his first assignment was as a section leader. He was to be a First Lieutenant in the Scout Platoon, where he worked with Huey Helicopters. Martinez then was appointed to the position of platoon leader of the Aero Rifle Platoon. Many of the people he worked with there were Vietnam veterans; with them, he gained new skills and leadership experience, particularly useful to a young officer.

Martinez recalled “Liberty Weekend” in the summer of 1986, when the Statue of Liberty was re-dedicated to much excitement and fanfare. President Reagan was even in attendance. The New Jersey National Guard was asked to provide medical evacuation support in the event of a mass casualty event. Two New Jersey aircraft were assigned, one of which Martinez was assigned to. He flew to the Jersey City Air Strip on July 4, 1986. Except for a miscommunication with a general, there were no emergencies, so Martinez was able to enjoy the event.

In 1989, Martinez was transferred to Aviation Headquarters to work in the Operations section at Trenton Mercer Airport. While working there, he wrote several procedures that became policy; he was very proud to have contributed so significantly. Martinez remained in this position until March of 1992, when he became the executive officer for the newly raised 150th Aviation Regiment. He was reassigned to the 117th in September of the same year. This was a challenging position for Martinez, because some of the people he worked with had very different opinions on aviation.

150th Aviation

Martinez remembered that there was a transition period around 1994, when many National Guard units were disbanded, and command positions changed. He returned to Aviation Headquarters and worked with aviation safety operations. While Martinez worked there, Tropical Storm Floyd hit the region. The National Guard provided critical support and relief, both on the ground and in the air, to New Jerseyans. Martinez’s special skills included providing support from the air, and controlling fires that had broken out as a result of the storm, by using a “Bambi Bucket” that hung below a helicopter, and could scoop up water and dump it on fires.

Martinez was still in the Aviation Directorate and was also the Army Aviation Facility Officer during the 9/11 response. Part of his unit’s role was to prepare for another possible attack, as well as to provide support to FBI evidence teams. He said that it was important for the partnership between intelligence and security agencies to remain strong, particularly in emergencies.

Martinez retired in 2011, yet at the time of his interview he was still involved with the National Guard. Although out of uniform, he worked with Soldier Readiness Processing (SRP), which ensures that members of the National Guard are receiving the medical and dental care that they need, and that they are healthy enough to be deployed if necessary. Martinez stated that this is enjoyable work, because he still wanted to support the troops and remain in contact with the people he knew through the National Guard. 

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