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Portraits in Courage: Lt. Col. Melchizedek “Kato” Martinez

  • Published
  • By Danielle Knight
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs

Honorees for this year’s “Portraits in Courage” program were recently released.

“Portraits in Courage” is a 10-year tradition that pays tribute to Airmen who have demonstrated courage in combat, in their community and while overcoming adversity.

One of the honorees representing the Air Education and Training Command is Lt. Col. Melchizedek “Kato” Martinez.

Martinez, a tactical communications officer, was chosen for his and his family’s ability to overcome adversity.  He and his wife, Gail, and four children were all in the Brussels Airport March 22, 2016, just feet away when two suitcase bombs were detonated.  At the time of the incident, Martinez was the executive officer at headquarters NATO Allied Joint Force Command located in Brunssum, Netherlands.  Mrs. Martinez was killed during the blast, and the rest of the family suffered severe injuries.  Martinez spent the next year as a patient assigned to the Airmen Medical Transition Unit at JBSA-Lackland’s Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, which is part of the 59th Medical Wing.  Since March 2016, he and his children have been part of many rehabilitative procedures and surgeries.  Today, Martinez is the 26th Cyberspace Operations Group deputy commander at JBSA-Lackland.  Martinez suffered third degree burns across his arms, legs and head, a fractured heel, shrapnel wounds, a concussion, hearing loss, left foot laceration, gunshot wound and a perforated ear drum.

“I’m here today as proof that you can get off the edge and live,” Martinez said.  “There are so many resources available to us, all you have to do is reach out to one.”

 The oldest Martinez daughter, Kianni, whose foot was reconstructed and who has been through 16 surgeries, is beginning to run again and is enrolled at the University of Central Florida.  She is also a member of the university’s Air Force ROTC program.

“I never waste an opportunity to say thank you to those who put their hearts into helping me and my family,” Kianni said.  “They were there for us and they hoped that we would get better right along with us.  That above all else, thank you.”

Portraits in Courage is an Air Force chief of staff program and each year honorees from across the Air Force are selected to represent all Airmen who have faced situations like these Airmen every day across the globe.  In addition to the luncheon, honorees were spotlighted during a reception and a Heritage to Horizons Concert at the Air Force memorial in Washington, D.C.

In the 10 years since its inception, more than 167 Airmen have been honored through Portraits in Courage. The 2017 program honors 21 stories showcasing 49 courageous military and civilian Airmen.

All of this year’s Portraits in Courage stories are featured on the 70th Air Force Birthday portraits in courage page at  Profiles from previous volumes are featured on the Air Force Portraits in Courage website: