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'Just let me serve the country that has given me everything'

  • Published
  • By By Master Sgt. Timm Huffman
  • Headquarters RIO
When Staff Sgt. Olorunyomi Martins talks about the debt of gratitude he owes to his adoptive country, one can’t help believing the American Dream is alive and well.

A native of southwest Nigeria, Martins arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2003 with $750 in his pocket. He felt like a rich man.

That money and a passion for higher education (the only two things his mother had to give him), along with a student visa, were all he had. Despite this, Martins knew he had finally arrived in the land of opportunity.

“I believed America was a place where you could make it,” said Martins.

Growing up in Nigeria was a sharp contrast to the life he would find in the U.S. Access to clean water was a half-mile walk, electricity was not reliable and sports equipment was minimal. Martins said that in his culture, the order of respect is God, Mother, Church, so when his mother told him the only gift she had for him was education, he took that as gospel, and went with her instinct to pursue education in America.

“I always studied very, very hard and never lost sight of what the bigger world had to offer,” said Martins, who already had a bachelor’s degree in geography before leaving for America. “I wanted to make a difference.”

Despite his degree in geography, Martins said that as he tried to figure out how to get from JFK to his school in Conroe, Texas, he had no concept of how far he would have to travel before arriving at his university. After buying his bus ticket, he spent the next four days traveling the 1,800 miles to his new home.

After stepping off the bus in Texas, he began his business studies. He only stayed for one semester, however, before a 2004 trip to visit friends in Maryland turned into a relocation. During the ensuing years, Martins charted a course that developed into a desire to serve in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

Martins recalled that as a young boy, his mother would tell him that bank managers, with their crisp suits and ties, were respectable men. That left an impression on Martins and the future Airman made it his goal to become one. After returning to the eastern seaboard, he began managing a pizza joint in order to gain the two years of required management, customer service and money-handling experience required for the banking job. He resumed his business studies via a distance learning program and would soon graduate with his degree in business administration. Through hard work and determination Martins achieved his dream job, earned his degree and was doing well financially.

Despite his self-made success, he felt something was missing. He had a needed to give back to the country that had given him so many opportunities. He began thinking about serving in the U.S. military.

Even though he grew up in the years following Nigeria’s civil war, Martins always had an interest in military service. He and his brother would watch American war movies and idolize the heroic characters. The pair even participated in the Boy Scouts – an opportunity to wear a uniform and feel big and strong like the American G.I.s in the movies. And, like bank managers, military service was something his mother always admired.
So, in 2009 at age 33, Martins enlisted in the Air Force Reserve as a Port Dawg with the 46th Aerial Port Squadron at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. He attended basic training and eventually earned his citizenship, his “golden ticket to a better life.” In 2012 he deployed with his unit to Southeast Asia.

After returning from that deployment, Martins forged ahead in his civilian career and education. He enrolled in a master’s program to earn an advanced degree in business administration. He also landed a job at a prestigious investment firm. Life was good, but there’s always room for improvement.

In 2014 Martins felt a change to his military life was in order and began the process of transitioning from Traditional Reservist aerial porter into the Individual Mobilization Augmentee program as a paralegal at Dover’s active-duty legal office. According to his supervisor, Master Sgt. Michelle L. Palmer, he officially joined her team in May 2015, following his completion of technical training.

Palmer said that her office has a great relationship with their IMAs, including Martins. “They give us a tremendous amount of support and they are an amazing part of our legal office team.”

Not even a year into his new assignment, Martins has already made an impact. Earlier this spring he began supporting on 90-day orders, augmenting the legal team during a critical manning shortage. His primary duties include providing administrative and paralegal support to the Legal Assistance and Preventative Law programs, drafting legal reviews for things such as fundraisers and sponsorship agreements, and investigating and processing claims. Palmer said that everything she gives him to work on, he tackles with enthusiasm.

“Staff Sgt. Martins is an amazing [non-commissioned officer] and remarkable person!” said Palmer. “He has an amazing personality and his smile and positive attitude are completely infectious.”

The paralegal IMA said he enjoys many aspects of his new career field, including the flexibility and autonomy that come with doing independent research on his cases. The work is an opportunity for him to better understand the Air Force, the law and himself.

He likes these same aspects of being an IMA. He said that being proactive, reaching out and asking questions have been key to his success in the program. He also enjoys the challenge of managing his own career and the opportunities the program gives him to be competitive with himself and others.

“Being an IMA is an individual thing and your performance will speak for itself,” he said. “Doing the best I can drives me as an IMA.”

He also enjoys the increased flexibility his new reserve status brings to his service. It provides him more latitude in his civilian pursuits, which now include enrollment in a doctoral program.

The ability to support the active duty also ranks high on Martins’ list of things he enjoys about the Individual Reserve. The IR, which is made up of IMAs (like Martins) and Participating Individual Ready Reservists (who participate for points towards retirement only), supports more than 50 active duty and government agencies around the world. He said he enjoys the close working relationship, the willingness of his unit to share knowledge, and the broader perspective he has gained from working alongside the active component.

According to the Headquarters Individual Reservist Readiness and Integration Organization, HQ RIO for short, there are many opportunities for Airmen to transition to the Individual Reserve, especially in the legal field. Program information, position vacancies and instructions on how to apply are all available on the HQ RIO website. Active duty and Reserve Airmen can also talk to their in-service recruiter for more information on how to find a job as an IMA.

For Martins, who went from near-penniless immigrant to home-owning, well-employed, U.S. citizen, his service comes down to giving back to his country.

“This country has given me so much; I am very grateful,” he said. “[I want to] do everything in my capacity, everything I can, to serve.”