J.R.’s career path has been incredible, and perhaps even a bit improbable. Once a high school football player from a small town in Georgia, the only son of a single working mother who emigrated from El Salvador, J.R.’s trajectory is nothing if not surprising. Even to him.
Jose Rene Martinez was born June 14, 1983 in Shreveport, Louisiana to Maria Zavala from El Salvador and a black father. His two sisters, Consuelo and Anabel, were raised in El Salvador with his mother’s family. He never met Anabel, who died as a young child. At nine years old, J.R. moved with his mother to Hope, Arkansas, where he lived until he was 18. He then moved to Dalton, Georgia, a place he proudly calls his hometown. J.R. always loved playing football and had aspirations of making it to the NFL.
After high school, he joined the army. J.R. was proud to serve, as a way to give something back to a country that had already given so much to him and to his family. In September of 2002, J.R. underwent Basic and Advanced Training at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he gained skills as an 11-B Infantryman. After reporting to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in January of 2003, he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division.
In March of 2003, J.R. was deployed to Iraq. On April 5, he was driving a Humvee in Karbala when his left front tire hit a roadside bomb. The three other soldiers were ejected from the burning vehicle, but J.R. was trapped inside. He suffered smoke inhalation and severe burns to 34 percent of his body. J.R. claims that while he was fighting for his life and awaiting medical help, his sister, Anabel, appeared to him giving him the strength to live.
J.R. was evacuated to a local medic station in Iraq and then on to Landstuhl, Germany, for immediate care. He spent 34 months in recovery at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC/SAMC) in San Antonio, Texas. He has undergone 34 different surgeries, including skin grafts and cosmetic surgery, in the years since his injury.
During his recovery, a nurse asked him to speak to a burn patient, who had just seen his body for the first time and had become withdrawn. After a brief visit, J.R. realized that he had a positive impact on this patient and decided to use his own experiences to help others. He continued to visit patients every day, sharing his story and listening to theirs. He learned that inspiration is often a two-way street.
Martinez has since become a highly sought-after motivational speaker. He travels the world spreading his message of resilience and optimism. He devotes himself to showing others the true value of making the most of every situation. He has spoken to troops at various bases around the world, as well as to such groups as the Clinton Global Initiative, the Red Cross, and dozens of universities, non-profits, and Fortune 500 companies. His story is unique, but his message is universal: your path in life is decided by your own ability to adapt and overcome.
Many also know J.R. as “Brot Monroe,” a combat veteran who was injured in Iraq and returned home to face the new challenges of reintegrating to civilian life, on the Emmy Award-winning daytime drama, All My Children. In 2008, J.R.’s friend noticed an open casting call from the show, looking for a veteran to join their famed cast, and encouraged J.R. to try out. After several meetings with producers, he was cast, and an actor was born. Due to his runaway popularity, what began as a three-month story arc developed into a three-year role.
After All My Children ran its final season, J.R. went on to surprise and inspire a nation on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. Along with partner Karina Smirnoff, he won the coveted mirrorball trophy, and they were named Season 13 champions.
J.R. can currently be seen costarring on the syndicated action series, SAF3 (CW Network), as a Los Angeles County firefighter, paramedic, and veteran USAF pararescue jumper, “Alfonso Rivera.” He also guest-starred on the Season 6 finale of Army Wives.
Martinez has been featured on many shows, such as Oprah, 60 Minutes, Ellen,The View, The Tonight Show, Good Morning America, CBS Nightly News and on CNN, Fox, HLN and Univision. He narrated the CNN documentary series, In America: Vets Wanted? In 2013, he also guest-hosted on The View. He hosted The J.R. Martinez Show on KFI AM 640 in Los Angeles, one of the most popular talk radio stations in the country. He’s also been featured in The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, The New York Times and US Veterans Magazine, and was featured on the cover of People Magazine in their annual “Sexiest Man Alive” issue. He was also named one of People's “Most Intriguing People” of 2011.
J.R. Martinez is the author of The New York Times bestselling book, Full of Heart: My Story of Survival, Strength and Spirit, a memoir about how he was able to take his personal tragedy and turn it into an inspiration for others. He’s also very passionate about dedicating his time to non-profits; he serves as a spokesperson for Operation Finally Home, as well as for the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, Glasswing International, Free the Children, the Viscardi Center, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA.)
When J.R. does have leisure time, he likes to spend it with his family, friends and his black lab, Romeo.
- The “Why Me” Question
Your Answer Comes by Facing Adversity Head-on with Optimism & Resilience
- Accelerate Your Success Into 3-D
- Don’t Be Afraid to Be You
Acceptance of Body & Mind
- Plug into Your Potential
Spark Endless Possibilities through Goal-Setting
- Respect Yourself and Others
We Can All Learn & Grow from One Another
-Vice Chancellor, Communications and Community Engagement, National University System