As a young boy, Ernest Martin would hear his father and uncles talk about their military service, and he always knew he would one day follow in their footsteps. From his Marine father, Martin also learned that whenever he accepted a challenge, it was his sacred duty to fulfill it to the best of his ability.
It’s a mindset that’s kept him alive and led to a full life of achievement for the decorated paratrooper and Army veteran, who served for 22 years and was a proud member of the Army’s storied 101st Airborne Infantry, known in military circles as the “Screaming Eagles.” Officially he served as a platoon sergeant for the Eagles’ 502nd Infantry Air Assault Regiment, completing 99 parachute jumps over his career.
For much of his time in the service, Martin was overseas in the thick of things. He initially went into harm’s way during the U.S. invasion of the island of Grenada in 1983. That was only the beginning, however, as his unit would go on to be the tip of the spear for the liberation of Kuwait in Operation Desert Shield and the invasion of Iraq in Operation Desert Storm. Martin’s unit parachuted into Kuwait in advance of the regular U.S. forces, and in his duties as a platoon sergeant he established ammunition stores, trained troops and dealt with hundreds of Iraqi soldiers who voluntarily surrendered, all while dealing with SCUD missiles flying overhead.
In addition to the Middle East, Martin’s service included an overseas tour in Southwest Asia, plus stints in Italy, Germany, Fort Bliss and Fort Knox. He even served as part of the color guard for President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration. After growing up in Indiana and traveling around the world, the former paratrooper landed in Oklahoma through his final military assignment, as head of the Army ROTC program at the University of Oklahoma. While at OU, he took advantage of his four-year tenure to complete a bachelor’s degree in Native American history.
For his efforts, Martin has earned literally several dozen medals, service ribbons and recognition certificates, including a National Defense Ribbon, four commendations, three meritorious service certificates and seven Army achievement medals.
His heroism didn’t stop after his days in the service were ended, though. Immediately after retiring from the Army he accepted a position as a sheriff’s deputy for Cleveland County. Not long into his tenure with the department, Martin was shot while successfully defending a woman from an armed home intruder who intended to kill her. His actions earned him Medals of Valor from the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association.
Martin’s love for his fellow veterans, plus his natural leadership abilities, led him to become involved in the American Legion’s 100-year-old Post #88, headquartered in Norman. He’s been the post leader for eight years, and it’s won Oklahoma “Post of the Year” and numerous national awards under his leadership.
While he savors the ongoing camaraderie with his fellow veterans, Martin also is indulging his other love—the great outdoors—by working as the resident naturalist for the Discovery Cove Nature Center at Lake Thunderbird State Park. A lifelong outdoor enthusiast, Martin said he relishes the opportunity to teach visitors and school children about Oklahoma’s wildlife and the great outdoors in general.
He also loves spending time with his family. Together he and his wife, Rebecca, have three children and six grandchildren.
“God’s always put me in places where I needed to be to take care of something,” Martin said. “In the military when something happened, I was there. Even today it (continues to) happen.”