“I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a car accident but it’s a chaotic situation. You’re in there like, ‘hey get me out,’ and you’re panicking. And it’s even more stressful for people who maybe can’t understand emergency personnel. But then you start hearing someone who actually speaks your language and you kind of calm down a little bit and relax. That’s what I get to do. As the translator I get to fill that communication gap,” shared U.S. Army Warrant Officer Eric Martinez.
For Martinez, wearing a uniform is something he does every day. As a Construction Technician for the 7th Brigade Engineer Battalion in the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division on Fort Drum, New York, he is used to long hours and challenging missions, and he understands what service to his Nation means. But when the base colors are retired at the end of the week, Martinez puts on a different uniform and makes the three hour drive from Fort Drum, New York to Hazleton, Pennsylvania to serve the community as a volunteer fire-fighter.
With one deployment to Iraq in 2009 and one to Afghanistan in 2012, along with having earned two Purple Hearts, Martinez understands the chaos in uncertainty, and finds fulfillment in helping those in need.
As the first Spanish translator for his department, it often means he is the first to deliver difficult news to Spanish speakers in the community. He understands the importance communication has in emergencies, from his experiences as both a Soldier and fire-fighter, and he wants nothing more than to take care of those he’s responsible for.
Each weekend that Martinez isn’t training on Fort Drum, he is volunteering his time to serve the community of Hazleton. With over 362 hours volunteered in the first three months of 2021, it remains his passion and a way of giving back to a community he has grown to care deeply about.
“I did it in Alaska, Missouri…I love it,” said Martinez. “It’s very rewarding when you show up somewhere and you’re the guy that’s going into the house when everybody else is running out. The house is fully engulfed and you’re going to pull somebody out and you tell them, ‘I’m here for you. We’re going to get out of here.’”
In one instance, after responding to an apartment fire, Martinez noticed the Red Cross was having trouble communicating with the mother of two young children and shared how he was able to help as the department translator.
“The Red Cross showed up to help, but there was a communication gap. I stepped in and I could see the frustration on their faces. I was still masked up looking like an alien to them. I took the mask off right away and started speaking to them in Spanish, and you could just see the shift in their eyes realizing their kids aren’t going to sleep on the street that night.”
He acknowledges there are some similarities between the Army and being a fire-fighter. He enjoys the camaraderie and bonds of both, but admits for him they bring different levels of personal satisfaction.