Christopher Martinez (Ph.D., Business Administration / Homeland Security, candidate) grew up in the inner city of New York and Worcester, Mass. Today, he is an Assistant Special Agent in Charge of 70 other special agents, intelligence analysts and task force officers.
He has enjoyed an eclectic career that has included serving on active duty in the Navy and as Army reservist. As a federal agent he has investigated contraband and human smugglers, worked as an undercover operative and held international assignments.
As a teenager, Martinez’s path in life was anything but clear. “No one in my family had gone to college. I had influential teachers and counselors in high school that steered me to a program called Upward Bound – a program that encourages and assists first generation underprivileged inner-city kids go to college. I was accepted by the University of Massachusetts, but instead I enlisted in the Navy.”
Martinez spent five years in the Navy, based in San Diego, in a career that resembled the Air Force. “I was a naval air traffic controller that never went to sea,” he laughs.
It was during this time that Martinez decided the time was right for college. “My unit commander was a huge education advocate. He inspired me to start my degree - I worked during the day, and despite having a young family, I went to school at night,” said Martinez, who graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with a bachelor’s degree in aviation management.
After serving in the Navy, and hoping to become a special agent, Martinez joined the U.S. Customs Service as a Detection Systems Specialist. His role was to intercept smugglers via aviation technology at the California-Mexico border.
“Two years after joining the Customs Service, I was promoted to an intelligence specialist and we moved to Charleston. In 1991 I realized my dream and became a special agent. That was followed by six years in Miami where I investigated money laundering and narcotics crimes, sometimes undercover,” he recalls.
After eight years on the East Coast, Martinez and his family returned to the West Coast. They were stationed in El Centro, California when he took a job leading internal investigations.
Following his term in the Navy, Martinez had joined the Army Reserves as a Warrant Officer. Six days after September 11, 2001, while stationed in El Centro, he was activated and sent to Fort Mead, Maryland, where he served in the Army as a counterintelligence officer. He was released from active duty one year later. “While it was a challenge to be away from my family for that period of time, I was honored to serve,” he says.
It was after seven years in El Centro (including his year at Fort Mead) and thinking that an international appointment would be interesting, that Martinez transferred to Washington DC.
“In the military they teach you to do the absolute best that you can do, whatever you are assigned to do,” he explains. “That is advice that I have always tried to follow, whether I was being observed or not.”
That dedication to doing his best was noticed when Martinez was assigned to DC and led to his first assignment overseas. “It seems I had impressed several people. When I was in DC my name was recognized and I was recommended for a six month assignment in Bogotá.”
While in DC the Department of Homeland Security was created and all U.S. Customs Service special agents were transferred to a new agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Six months in Bogota was followed by three years as the ICE attaché in the U.S. Embassy in Panama City, Panama. Martinez oversaw ICE relationships with seven Central American countries: Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, and Guatemala.
“It was a fascinating period,” remarks Martinez. “While I reported into my ICE chain of command, I also worked directly for the American Ambassadors in all seven countries. On a monthly basis I would sit down with the equivalent of these countries attorney generals or their representative. Imagine having a standing monthly meeting with the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder!”
There is a lesson in Martinez’s international assignments. “Who knows if those assignments would have come my way had I not always been committed to doing my best no matter who was watching, or not? Obviously, someone was. ”
After three years, Martinez and his family were rotated stateside where he investigated human trafficking and smuggling. In 2009, he was promoted to assistant special agent in charge.
“Along the way, I completed a master’s in teaching from Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Fla. I chose Northcentral University for my Ph.D. in Homeland Security because I’d like to teach at the college level. I’ve had some interesting career experiences and I’d like to share them with the next generation.”
So, if Martinez could go back in time and tell the apprehensive young man who joined the Navy instead of going to college anything, what would it be?
“These days, I’m a believer in the advice of Denny Green, the former coach of the Minnesota Vikings" he says. "Specifically, as long as you exhibit desire, determination and dedication, you can be successful no matter what your circumstances are.”
*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.