URBANA, Md. — It took a move from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Fort Detrick, but Charlie Martinez finally has his dad back.
And Carlos Martinez, an Army sergeant first class now stationed with the 21st Signal Brigade, can finally watch his son, an Urbana Middle School eighth-grader, practice basketball, a sport the tall 13-year-old loves.
For much of his son's life, Carlos Martinez has been deployed overseas in combat zones. Being stationed at Bragg gave his family — which also includes his wife, Marysol, and 16-year-old daughter, Mia — stability in one place for a long time, a rarity among military families. But Carlos Martinez was often away from home.
The family moved to Detrick a little more than a year ago after Carlos Martinez was injured during a deployment so they could be closer to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
During his many deployments, Carlos Martinez missed "a lot of birthdays, a lot of anniversaries," he said. He would leave for a deployment after being home for about six months only to return and find "things are not as you left them."
Being home is nice, Carlos Martinez said. "It's really funny, too. They're getting to know me again, and I'm getting to know them again."
Marysol Martinez knew how much her husband's absence weighed on her son. About two years ago, the two came across a contest on the Internet run by the nonprofit Operation Homefront to name a military child of the year from each of the five branches. The nonprofit works with volunteers to provide emergency and other financial assistance to families of service members and wounded veterans.
The contest seeks candidates who show leadership, resilience and character strength in the face of the challenges of military life. Recipients receive $5,000 and a trip to Washington.
Marysol Martinez nominated her son two years ago, but Charlie was not chosen. This year, she wrote an essay about how his father's absence had affected Charlie's life even as he continued to thrive. The essay earned a spot among 20 finalists in the National Capital Region.
Charlie had to do a phone interview, answering a battery of questions about leadership and the challenges of being a military child.
“I was nervous,” he said.
One of the challenges was his dad's multiple deployments, Charlie said; he prefers having him home.
In his dad's sometimes yearlong deployments, the two might talk by phone 10 times. When Carlos Martinez got home, Charlie said the two would have to start over again because he had grown older. Since his father has returned for good, the two have bonded over sports and a shared hobby of collecting vintage GI Joes.
"Having him here, you have a sense of security," Charlie said.
While he learned that he did not take the region's top spot in the contest, Charlie wasn't disappointed. He got to spend time with his dad, who helped him prepare for the phone interview, Charlie said.
"He helped me find the leadership to help me."