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Back to Base: Heritage grad returns from Afghanistan
Local family supports two sons in Marines
Back row (right to left) Marine Corps Lance Corporal Gustavo Martinez, his mother Melissa, sister Erika, father Hector Sr.; Front row (right to left) Isabella and Christian. - photo by Lisa Hetzel/The News

At a time when a lot of college students are home for the summer, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Gustavo Martinez is on leave. His break is short; only four days. And instead of heading back for another semester, Gustavo will be returning for the second half of his tour of duty.

At 19-years-old, this 2012 Heritage graduate and first generation soldier has already lost a comrade. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Christopher O. Grant and Martinez trained together at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. "I never met anyone with that much energy," said Martinez.

Martinez was surprised that brotherhood among the battalion formed so quickly. "You get really close with these guys."

Once bootcamp was completed, Martinez felt confident about deployment. "You think that you're ready, but you're really not."

In October 2013, the 1st Battalion, 9th Marine unit, nicknamed "The Walking Dead," were conducting combat operations in Afghanistan. "We were split into sections. Grant was in the group that went down to an abandoned house." A suicide bomber entered at the same time as Grant.

Gustavo and several of the men from his squad went to Louisiana to comfort Grant's mother. They remain close and try to visit her whenever they can.

Martinez's mom, Melissa, also went to Grant's funeral. "I went there to comfort his mother. She had to bury a son who died at the hands of terrorists."

"I tried not to watch the news," said Melissa. "I didn't sleep when he was gone." The eight-and-a-half hour time difference meant that when it was nighttime here, her son was on patrol. "You can't do anything but pray and know that they're being smart."

For Martinez's father, Hector Sr., Grant's death was another reminder of the risk that their sons face. Martinez's older brother, Hector Jr., is also a Marine, serving in South Carolina as a bulk fuel specialist.

Their father struggled to put words to the mix of emotions. "Inside of me," he said, pointing to his heart, "it's hard to explain how I feel." He added, "Of course I'm proud, two guys from the same family are Marines."

The future includes new assignments for both Marines. Hector Jr. will be stationed in Spain. Gustavo Martinez will serve in Hawaii. In addition to a new address, there will be a new family member. A wedding will be held soon between Gustavo and his fiancé, Cassidy Brittain.

Melissa said, "As a family, we are grateful and thankful for everyone who has said a prayer." The Martinez family is a member of St. Pius X Catholic Church. "The community support makes such a difference."