Recruit is eager to serve his country

Published May 27, 2007

While many of his former classmates are partying this weekend before they figure out what to do with the rest of their lives, Isaac Martinez Jr. is consumed with the business of leaving home.

On Monday evening, the newly minted Gulf High School grad will pack his suitcases and head south for a Tampa hotel.

Less than 24 hours later, he'll board a bus with other Marine Corps recruits and head for 13 weeks of boot camp in Parris Island, S.C.

"I planned it this way so I wouldn't have a chance to second guess myself," said the 18-year-old New Port Richey man, thick with muscles from working out at the gym. He heard that boot camp is hell and wanted to be ready.

"I was born to serve this country," he said.

This Memorial Day we at home will honor the sacrifice of those who died fighting for America.

But young men like Isaac are paying their respects in the way they have always done. They are putting on the uniform, replenishing the ranks, embarking on a journey that could put them on the front lines of this endless war on terror.

Many of us struggle to understand why anyone would volunteer to enter harm's way for a cause so few seem to understand or support.

That's what prompted me to look for a few members of the graduating class of 2007 who were joining the military. My inquiries took me to Gulf High, where I met Isaac, and to Central High School in Hernando, where I met a number of seniors, including John Carroll and Cathryn Mursch. He heads for the Army in June less than two weeks after his 18th birthday. She will travel to Navy boot camp in Illinois this summer. Both dream of law enforcement careers after the military.

I was impressed with their patriotism and keen sense of duty. Most have strong family ties to the military. None of them needed a recruiter to come calling.

But Isaac was noteworthy for his singular focus. The oldest of four siblings, he is the first in his direct family to wear the uniform.

"I want to start my own legacy," he said. "I told my mother I wanted to be a soldier when I was 6 years old." For him, his plastic toy soldiers and video games were never just child's play. But will he have the stomach to face the ugly cruelty of war?

"Combat doesn't faze me," he said. "I could get killed with one of my friends back here doing something stupid."

He speaks with the brashness of youth. He is going to be a Marine, for honor, for respect, for the brotherhood in arms. He makes his mother, Elba Martinez, proud.

"He's ready," she said. "He was born to be a leader."

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is askerritt@sptimes.com.