On November 26, 2010, United States Marines Sergeant Gabriel Martinez and Corporal Justin Gaertner saw their lives irrevocably altered in a split-second, a moment that would forge a life-long bond. Today, for the first time in four years, the friends had a chance to reunite, thanks to The Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation and Celebrity Fight Night. Here is their story.
Marine Sergeant Gabriel (Gabe) Martinez and Corporal Justin Gaertner deployed in October 2010 with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion. Gabe, who was married just three months earlier, was on his second deployment. Justin was on his third. The two were close friends before they deployed to war together, even joking they needed to bring civilian clothes just in case they were injured and could spend some time in Germany.
In Marjah, Afganistan, on Thanksgiving Day—just two months into that deployment— tragedy struck. Justin was in the third vehicle of their convoy when the vehicle ahead of his hit an improvised explosive devise (IED). After he evacuated an injured Marine from that vehicle, Justin swept the area for IEDs. Justin then watched as his friend Gabe stepped on an IED plate sustaining critical injuries. Justin continued the sweep for mines, in order to clear out an area large enough for the MEDEVAC helicopter to land during which Justin stepped on the third IED. Gabe and Justin both sustained double amputation of their legs and additional serious injuries. The two men received life-saving measures on the scene and were MEDEVAC’d away together.
After being airlifted to Camp Dwyer and then to Bagram Air Base, they were transported to Landstuhl, Germany, and then on to Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland where they would stay for many months as they recovered and transitioned back to their home and communities, Gabe returning to Colorado and Justin to Florida.
The Semper Fi Fund, America’s Fund’s parent organization, provided assistance to both men and their families during their long hospital stays and transition back home. The Fund helped their families at the bedside, assisted them when they needed adaptive housing, granted them independence with adaptive vehicles and sports equipment once they returned home, all allowing them to successfully transition to their new normal. Gabe learned to walk again on his new legs, he became very busy rock climbing, skiing, biking and handcycling, and became an active member of Team Semper Fi—as did Justin, who took up mono-skiing, surfing, snorkeling, sky diving and running track.
As they recovered, Justin and Gabe faced many of the same challenges and experienced so many similar triumphs. But separated by 2000 miles of distance, they lived in parallel—until today. Moved by their story, The Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation decided to figure out a way to surprise them with a reunion: and Celebrity Fight Night offered the perfect opportunity. This afternoon, the two friends met for the first time in years, picking right back up where they left off, and set off to attend the star-studded charity event.
Gabe and Justin will be enjoying their reunion tonight and tomorrow they will return to their lives on opposite coasts: Gabe is now training for the 2016 Paralympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with the United States Olympic Committee. Meanwhile, Justin is working for Hero Corps to hunt child predators and rescue children in danger with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Special Operations Command. But no matter where in the world life takes Gabe and Justin, their friendship will keep them together for a lifetime.