Hispanic heritage: Journey through an Airman's eyes

  • Published
  • By Airman Daniel Brosam
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Hispanic Heritage month, which runs Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, recognizes and celebrates the contributions made by Hispanic and Latino Americans.

Diversity is a fundamental piece of the U.S. Air Force. Without diversity, we would not be able to learn and develop more efficient ways of accomplishing the mission.

Airman 1st Class Marissa Martinez, 341st Force Support Squadron missile chef, believes her past help shaped who she is today.

Martinez is the youngest of three children. She has two older brothers, Michael and Steven, who are also enlisted in the world's greatest Air Force.

Her earliest childhood memory was being 5 years old, standing on the sideline cheerleading at her brother's football game.

At that age, she never expected her life to take on such a dramatic journey.

Martinez and her brothers grew up in a trailer home in Weslaco, Texas, only minutes from the Mexican border. Her mother worked part time in Houston on the weekends, and would take Martinez and her brothers with her on the nearly 7-hour drive.

"We would leave Friday after school and come back Monday right before school," said Martinez. "We would maybe leave around one in the morning so we could get to school on time."

At the time, her father was a manager for loss prevention at a store in Weslaco. Her mother wanted to move to Houston to take a full-time position she was offered, but her father could not find a job in Houston. He decided it would be best for him to stay back in Weslaco.

Martinez, her mother and her two brothers moved to Houston and lived in an apartment complex for about two years. The apartment had three pools, a Jacuzzi, and a basketball and tennis court.

"We were living well and school was good," said Martinez. "It was amazing."

The stay in Houston was short lived when her father wanted them to move back to Weslaco. Her mother quit her job and they were on the road again, heading back to the town where she once lived.

Her parents decided to move in with her mother's parents in their three-bedroom house. It was a tight squeeze, but Martinez's grandmother gave them two bedrooms to share.

"My grandma was nice enough to give us two rooms," said Martinez. "It was me and my brothers in one room and my mom and dad in their room."

At the end of fifth grade, her parents' relationship fell apart and they split up. Her mother moved out on her own with her and her brothers to Edinburg, Texas, and her dad went to his mother's house.

"We lived in a two story house," said Martinez. "It was just my mom and my brothers."

Her mother found a job working at hospital, but could not afford the house payment. They had to move again, but this time into a duplex.

"It wasn't bad, it was kind of nice," said Martinez. "It was ugly because people would throw trash on the floor, but it was okay."

Her mom began to work a lot, to the point they would never see her. Martinez would take the responsibilities of an adult at 10 years old, cooking and cleaning on her own.

"She would try and keep us happy," said Martinez. "My brothers would play video games and I would clean the house, what she should have done, but I knew she was playing mom and dad."

A few years passed and Martinez was in high school when her mother could no longer afford the duplex. They moved into a three bedroom apartment closer to the high school she attended, but it was even worse.

"It was gated and you would think it was nice," said Martinez. "When you would keep going down that road to the very end where we were, it was ugly. The garbage was even worse."

Martinez finally had her own room and her brothers shared one, but her mother couldn't afford the apartment alone. In order to stay there, she asked a co-worker to live there and to help pay the rent.

"My mom got into a fight with the roommate because she said she didn't like the kids," said Martinez. "She didn't like us."

The co-worker moved out, leaving her mom to pay the rent.

During her freshman year of high school, Martinez wanted to participate in cheerleading, but she knew how expensive it would be, so instead, she joined track and cross country. Martinez used running as an escape from home, to not deal with the problems of poverty.

Her mother could not afford the new apartment and had to move back to Weslaco to live with her parents again, this time, sharing one room.

Martinez still attended high school in Edinburg, so her mom would drive 30 minutes every day to drop her off at school.

"She did that for us because she knew when she was in high school, she did not want to switch schools," said Martinez. "And she still worked in Edinburg."

Her mother got tired of going back and forth from home to school and work every morning and waking up early, so she found a house to rent back in Edinburg, across the street from the high school Martinez attended. The only problem was they rented one room, not the whole house.

They lived in the master bedroom, sharing one bed between all four of them. They shared the house with another single mother and her daughter. The roommate eventually got kicked out by the owners, which forced her mother to find new roommates. People would come and go, but it never lasted.

"We couldn't do it," said Martinez.

Martinez's oldest brother Steven enlisted in the Air Force but had to wait a year, and in that time, Martinez helped her brother get into shape.

"He would always ask me to help him out because he couldn't run," said Martinez. "We did that for a while and I would go with him my freshman year and workout with the recruiter. He would always try to talk to me and I would say 'no, I'm going to school and I'm getting a scholarship in track.'"

Martinez really got into track her sophomore year and said she did very well.

Junior year, she tore her tendon in a foot and was out the whole year. Her family didn't have health insurance, so they had to pay out of pocket for the doctor visit.

Since her injury, Martinez gave up running until she graduated high school in which she began running again only to sprain her other ankle.

"When I sprained my ankle, I got so down," said Martinez. "I would stay in bed all day and sleep. One day (my mother) wanted to go to the movies and I said 'no' and just stayed in bed. She got upset and told me I needed to get up or I'd get worse."

In October of 2014, Martinez decided to take control of her own life. She enlisted into the U.S. Air Force.

She entered the Air Force without a career in place, meaning the Air Force would put her wherever additional manning was needed. In November, her recruiter called her with an offer. Martinez had five days to make a decision on taking a spot of another recruit who couldn't make it.

"I only had five days to see people and say goodbye," said Martinez. "I called my mom and she said if I wanted to do it, to do it. So I did."

Malmstrom is Martinez's first base, arriving here March 2015.

Martinez works hard as a missile chef, preparing meals for individuals deployed to the field. She can stay away from home for up to four days at a time and have as little as two days off.

One reason Martinez works hard is to help her mother when times get hard.

Martinez shares a bank account with her mother and said she wants to repay her mother who did her best to take care of her when it seemed impossible.

"I had a good childhood," said Martinez. "It wasn't the worst, but it wasn't the best. Some people had it worse than me."