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Never Give Up: Tragic accident can’t keep loadmaster from returning to duty

  • Published
  • By Minnie Jones

May 24, 2017 was just like any other day for Stuart Martin. The Reserve Citizen Airman loadmaster assigned to the 433rd Airlift Wing, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, hopped on his Harley‑Davidson Sportster motorcycle late in the morning and headed to school … unaware that this routine ride would change his life forever.

Around noon, a sports utility vehicle slammed into Martin and his bike at an intersection. Lying in the road and not yet knowing how badly he was hurt, Martin began yelling out commands to the bystanders who quickly came to his aid. He remembers telling people to move him out of the intersection and to get his cell phone for him.

As he looked around to assess the situation, Martin knew his hand was injured, but he was unaware of the condition of his leg until he saw the look of shock on the face of the driver who hit him. As he followed her eyes, he glanced down at his left leg and saw that it was shattered and dangling.

An ambulance responded quickly and transported Martin to a nearby hospital. Doctors told the 26-year‑old they would attempt to reconstruct his leg, but they couldn’t rule out the possibility of amputation.

“If it’s gone, it’s gone,” Martin told the doctors, without hesitation.

Master Sgt. Michael Lopez, Martin’s supervisor in the 68th Airlift Squadron, was the first person to arrive at the hospital.

He found his co-worker awake and alert.

“I was hoping he had his helmet on, and he did,” Lopez said. However, when Lopez looked down at Martin’s lower leg, he said to himself, “Oh my God, there’s nothing holding it.”

Lt. Col. Daniel King, 68th AS commander, and Martin’s parents arrived at the hospital about three hours later, just as Martin was returning from what would be the first of six eventual surgeries.

“I was thankful he was alive,” King said. “But sad about the circumstances. His family was incredibly supportive and really positive about it. They said, ‘God has this, and we’ll get through it.’”

With his left leg amputated and facing 30 days of recovery at the University Hospital in San Antonio, Martin continually expressed to Lopez and King that he wanted to stay in the Air Force and remain on flight status.

King immediately began processing the paperwork to return Martin to duty. The young loadmaster was initially placed on “no points, no pay” – a status for Reservists still serving but not actively participating.

“If I had to give advice to an Airman in a similar situation, the most important thing they would have to have is perseverance,” King said. “They need to know the process is incredibly challenging. I knew of a couple of cases where people have come back, but I also knew the process was extremely tedious and lengthy. As a result, most people just give up on the process because it’s just a battle.”

With his waiver to return to duty approved, Martin was put on active-duty orders to complete his loadmaster recertification, required due to his time away from the C-5M Super Galaxy.

He completed his recertification on Nov. 30, 2021. The four-and-a-half-year journey from the operating table back to flight status has been a long one for Martin, and he still has one more hurdle to clear. His current status does not allow him to participate in temporary duty assignments outside the continental United States. He intends to get his full status reinstated and said he will not rest until he is back to being cleared for all missions.

Since the accident, Martin has obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in kinesiology from the University of Texas, San Antonio, and a Master of Science degree in athletic training from Tarleton State University. He’s also completed several half marathons.

He said he wouldn’t have been able to complete his recovery without a tremendous amount of support from friends and family, both in and out of uniform.

“There were people I had known for years, people I had worked with and people I didn’t even know personally who encouraged me to pursue a most incredible life regardless of the injuries I’ve sustained,” he said.

“It was overwhelming to wake up from surgery and see that I already had so many people there to care for me. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to return to flight status. I enjoy being an Air Force Reservist and I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to continue my education and help others who have suffered injuries outside the Air Force.”

The loadmaster hopes his story might inspire others in a similar situation.

“My hope is that others see my story and are encouraged to pursue what they desire regardless of the barriers they might experience,” he said. “Additionally, there is still a fantastic life ahead for anyone who may suffer from a traumatic injury. Finally, I hope to serve as an example to show that service members can participate in physically demanding career fields even after suffering the loss of a limb.”

(Jones is assigned to the 433rd Airlift Wing’s public affairs office.)