by Chris Gill
It was December 11th 2014, and Lone Star Warriors Outdoors was flying in 15 warriors to San Angelo, Texas, for a hunt. These were 15 great guys who had sacrificed mind, body and soul for their country, but this story will put the spotlight on one individual, United States Army Jose Hernandez Martinez.
Back in May of 2011, I helped found LSWO, mainly because I believed in giving other guys the opportunity to heal mentally and physically in the outdoors the same as I had. I felt I should pay it forward.
We are based in Whitehouse, Tx., which is a small town east of Dallas, and last year we put on about 10 events. We’re always looking to expand though.
This particular hunt was a scheduled 4-day trip, set to begin on Thursday afternoon when the soldiers arrived. We had a welcoming banquet that night and sighted in weapons the following morning to get ready to hunt. We were going to be spread out over 5 different ranches and the weather was supposed to be perfect for hunting. All systems go!
Prior to the hunt, I talked to Jose a few times on the phone. I knew he was a triple amputee, losing both legs and his right arm to a buried mine, and he probably thought I was crazy because I kept calling and hounding him about what he might need for the hunt. He kept telling me “nothing special,” but for some reason that never satisfied my desire to be prepared. He even sent me a video of himself WALKING two miles on a tread mill to prove he could handle the terrain. It was one of the most inspirational things I’d ever seen.
When Jose arrived at the airport in San Angelo, I wanted to make sure he had everything on this hunt to make it the best for him, but in true selfless fashion, he wanted me to just leave him alone and treat him as I would anyone else.
To my surprise, when Jose got off the plane, he walked to the terminal gate. Jose lost his right leg up into his hip so he has to strap his prosthetic around his waist. As I had only dealt with one other triple amputee before him, I was a little unsure of what to do. I wanted the help but at the same time didn’t need to dote on him. I eventually made up my mind that if he needed help he would ask, but that didn’t last very long. I took charge and said “Sit back soldier, I’m getting you there faster.” I grabbed his chair and pushed him as fast as I could. I think he enjoyed it too, well he said he did anyway.
Fast-forward a few days and Jose told me that he NEVER takes his legs off in front of people, ever, but by the time our weekend was over I was finding them in all sorts of strange places, like by the fire pit. I knew then that what we were doing was the right thing, which is exactly the reason we started LSWO. But we’ll get more into that later.
Jose is one of those guys that you don’t find often, not because of his injuries, but because of his spirit. Nothing was going to stop him, nothing at all. I’m the kind of person that likes to touch, make a joke, grab you and laugh, but Jose is kinda the opposite (when the hunt was over he told me all this.) After a few days of me pushing him around in his chair because the terrain was not conducive to walking, though, he got used to me and I to him. I’d say something and rub his head just for fun. On the ride back to the airport Jose said, “I usually don’t like people touching me, but you rubbing my head made me feel like family,” and that’s what he is now, family.
During my weekend with Jose, I found out several things about him that I didn’t know. When I first saw him, I noticed the tattoos on him, on his neck and arms. It turns out that Jose was a former Los Angeles gang member. He finally decided to turn his life around and joined the Army only to get deployed and step on a mine. For most people, the story would stop here, but for him it was only beginning. He shared with me that until recently he was on something like 50 pills a day and was just sitting at home getting fat, and that was not who he wanted to be. He finally flushed all those pills and got off all meds so that he could live his life the way he wanted to, not the way his doctors wanted him to.
Jose was right handed and right eye dominant, so in order to hunt we had to teach him to shoot with his left arm and left eye. We worked with him for about 30 minutes until he got more comfortable doing it that way. After a few fun hunts in the blind without seeing much, we finally saw the buck we were looking for when Jose was hunting with guide Justin Lang and a camera-man. It was a big mature 8 point, and nobody knew it but Jose was having a classic case of buck fever. (When I watched the video that night you could see him shaking.)
After about 20 minutes of watching, the buck finally got in a good position and Justin gave Jose the green light to shoot. He concentrated hard on that buck, watching every move in the scope and telling us about what he was seeing. He seemed calm and collected at that point, but in reality that was far from the case. Finally the buck stopped, presenting Jose with the perfect shot and BANG… he didn’t miss. Jose pulled the trigger and to all of our delight the buck dropped in its tracks. Right down! “Hell Yeah!” He yelled immediately after making the shot. At that point everybody knew that he wasn’t as calm, cool and collected as he appeared to be. Jose was so amped up that he was shaking uncontrollably. His left leg, the one amputated above the knee, was shaking like a dog’s tail. It was so bad that the blind was shaking too. He wasn’t fooling anyone anymore.
When we showed all the guys his video that night, Jose laughed when he saw the footage, the guide laughed, I laughed, the whole camp laughed when we saw the footage. Not because of the way he looked, but because the video showed the raw emotion of a guy who thought he’d never be able to do something like this, a guy who had never hunted before but got his first deer when he thought he was so different than everyone else. The thing about Jose is that he isn’t different at all. He’s still him, just maybe a little lighter!
Jose told me he wants to start working toward accomplishing as many of the goals he had when he had 4 limbs; he wants to reach them with 1 now. If you ever talk to him, you’ll believe that he’ll do it too, just as I do. He’s always upbeat, positive and determined.
Jose made a decision that weekend that I think will affect his life and many others. He decided he wants to be a motivational speaker. He has the story to touch a lot of lives, to get people on the right track, show them that disabled or not, life is what you make of it. He’s already done so much during his short 28 years here that I have no doubts he’ll do it.
Jose, thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet you, for affecting me and all those you came in contact with. Thank you for serving others when you could’ve stayed at home feeling sorry for yourself and motivating us to be better people. You, Jose Martinez, are a true hero!