A bald head, but many hats with which to cover it

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Angela Walz
  • 162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Chaplain (Maj.) Mike Martinez is not your average Air Guardsman. He's not your average Catholic priest either. In fact, he wears so many different hats that you might not recognize him outside of his military uniform.

Most commonly referred to as 'Father Mike,' he is known by many for either his infectious smile, shiny bald head, or ever-concerned, "How are you doing?"

"Father Mike isn't a conventional Chaplain like you'd think of a Chaplain," said Lt. Col. Jeff Butler, former 162nd Headquarters Squadron commander. "He hunts, goes fishing, tells a great story, and - shoot - he saved a stranded hunter in the Arizona wilderness just last year!"

Chaplain Martinez began contemplating a life of service to his faith following his junior year in high school. He joined the seminary after graduating from high school and left the small town of Morenci, Ariz., to attend 4 years of college at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. Another 4 years of graduate-level courses at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, Calif., and Father Mike walked away with a Master's of Divinity degree.

He was ordained in 1989 and has served in various parishes in Tucson, as well as at the state penitentiary in Florence, Ariz. Father Mike's call to service for his country came while he was approached at mass one Sunday by a parishioner.

"[Retired Master Sergeant] Bert Otero said his unit needed someone to come out and lead service. I've always been patriotic and pro-military so I checked into it and came out for 3 or 4 years as a contract chaplain," said Father Mike.

Underage Airmen require parental consent to enlist in the National Guard and, similarly, Chaplain Martinez required the endorsement and permission of the Diocese of Tucson to join the Arizona Air National Guard as a Drill Status Guardsman in 1999.

"I'm never more proud than when I'm wearing my uniform because of who and what it represents -- past, present, and future," said Chaplain Martinez.

When not in his Airman Battle Uniform, you might likely spot Father Mike wearing shorts and a t-shirt on stage while playing the bass guitar. Yes, he's a rock star, too.

He plays more jazz than rock, but is nonetheless an accomplished musician. Chaplain Martinez is a professional-level bass player. He started playing at the age of 17, is self-taught, and now plays 'virtuoso.' "That means I can show off and tear it up," he explained with a slight chuckle.

Father Mike likes to 'tear it up' at the gym, too. He is an avid weight lifter and tries to maintain an exercise regime that consists of 3 to 4 days per week of heavy lifting. He enjoys powerlifting and regulation squats are his exercise of choice. "I can squat 450 pounds," he said. "That isn't necessarily a lot, but it is for me. I'm stronger now than I've been in my entire life."

His strength has helped lead him through two deployments - to Saudi Arabia in 2002 and Qatar in 2005. He served an active duty tour for Operation Jump Start from October, 2006 through June, 2008 and has currently been serving another active duty tour since July, 2008.

"Father Mike now fulfills the critical full-time role of Chaplain service to the 214th Reconnaissance Group on an everyday basis: 365, 24/7. This support is due to the nature of the mission at Predator and the ensuing need of support that only the Chaplain's office offers," said Colonel Butler.

"While serving the 214th, Father Mike also visits the Snowbird and Alert Detachments that happen to be collocated on Davis-Monthan. His outgoing nature brings him much praise and success in reaching the troops and truly fulfilling his calling as Chaplain. He also serves as Wing Chaplain for the ANG's largest Fighter Wing in America, the 162nd," he said.

This weekend he'll suit up for the Unit Training Assembly. Next weekend you might catch him at the rodeo, sporting a cowboy hat and a dip of fake tobacco. Regardless, he'll be smiling, rubbing some sunscreen on his head, and trying to read your face for some honesty behind your answer to, "How are you doing?"

Wherever he may be, he's never too far away and he encourages people to call him if they need a friend or if they just want to trade fishing stories.

"I have the ability to help people and serve God at the same time," said Father Mike. "The best part about my job is the friendships I get to make and the people I get to meet."