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Outgoing Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific Chief of Staff Jeff Martin.
Outgoing Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific Chief of Staff Jeff Martin. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

TORII STATION, Okinawa — For 35 years, Jeff Martin has been a fixture in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools system, from Germany to Spain to Okinawa, from teaching health, business and physical education to holding high-level administrative posts.

That ends Thursday when Martin leaves his post as chief of staff, the No. 2 position within DODDS-Pacific, to retire.

Leaving what he calls “probably the best job I’m ever going to have” is going to be “extremely difficult,” said Martin, 63, who first joined DODDS in 1969, teaching in Mannheim, Germany.

Martin and his wife, Faith, will join their son, Brett, in Phoenix.

Of all Martin did as chief of staff, he says, his main passion was coordinating activities DODDS-Pacific offers its students outside the classroom.

That focus, he said, may have sprung from not being “a great scholar ... I was always involved with activities and I can see that a lot of my successes were in activities, whether it was drama or sports.”

That passion, said his boss of seven years, DODDS-Pacific director Dr. Nancy Bresell, became Martin’s signature and most visible quality.

“He has really devoted a lot of time and energy” to activities “and has helped to make them the important events that they are in the lives of our kids,” Bresell said. “It’s going to be hard to find somebody to step into those shoes and continue in the same vein. Kids are important to Jeff.”

Originally from Milton, Mass., Martin graduated from Salem State University, near Boston, in 1969, and had been teaching in Connecticut when he and his new bride, Faith, decided to go to Europe to ski and seek a teaching job overseas.

“Either they would not pay you more than 12 cents an hour and you could ski all you wanted, or they’d pay you a lot of money and you couldn’t ski,” Martin said.

Then, “I found out about the DODDS office in Germany, and after the interview I was picked up as a local hire,” he recalled.

“One year turned into 35-plus wonderful years,” he said, adding that family and opportunities to see the world kept him in DODDS. “We couldn’t find a better place to educate our children. And to be able to see the world as a family, the traveling, the skiing, the Olympics.”

The first three years were spent teaching and serving as a drug counselor at Mannheim.

Torrejon Middle School in Spain followed, then his first administrative stint, as health and physical education counselor and interscholastic sports czar for the DODDS’ Mediterranean district.

“I really work well with kids having problems, be it socially, academically, athletically,” Martin said. “I’m not sure why. I guess I can just relate to them better.”

The call came in 1987 from Dr. Jerry Bloom, his former boss in Spain and then DODDS-Pacific director. Bloom wanted Martin to take his first administrative post in the Far East: assistant principal of Kadena High School on Okinawa.

“It was extremely difficult to leave,” Martin recalled. “We had 12½ wonderful years in Spain. It was hard on my children. It’s hard to uproot, and it was a hard transition. However, in the long run, it turned out to be the best thing in the world.”

After two years at Kadena High, Martin moved up to the DODDS-Pacific regional office in 1989, where he has remained in various capacities, including his current chief-of-staff post.

Working with the Pacific schools, particularly Kadena — from where his two sons, Brett and Matthew, graduated — and Kubasaki high schools on Okinawa, was the main benefit, he said.

“The Pacific high schools are tops in DODDS,” Martin said.

“You can’t find two better high schools than Kadena and Kubasaki. Top-notch faculty, curriculum and great activities. The enthusiasm of the faculty. It’s the size, a little bigger than some of the other schools, so they can offer more than some of the smaller schools.”

Working for Bresell was another major plus, Martin said.

“I feel blessed to have a chance to work the last seven years with such a strong leader who’s willing to give you a job to do, knowing that you will complete the job and you’ll do it well, because she has the confidence in you,” he said.

“When [new] teachers come in, she says, ‘Welcome to the DODDS family.’ And that’s what we are. And I see it much more in the Pacific, especially the last seven years.”

Bresell said she sees qualities in Martin that will be hard to replace, particularly his diplomacy in resolving disagreements between administrators and other DODDS officials about educational issues.

“He has a gift for that,” she said. “I have never met anybody who can sit down, listen to what your concerns are, has a capacity for empathy and by the time you’re finished talking to him, you feel a whole lot better. He’s able to resolve issues and concerns gracefully and create win-win situations for both sides.”

There will be plenty to miss, Martin said. “From kindergarten through the 12th grade, we have the best parents, teachers, students, administrators and community support,” he said. “It really is a whole total networking commitment. ... I’ll miss it.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He served 10½ years in the Air Force, the last 4½ assigned to Stripes in Tokyo, and was then hired by Stripes on Oct. 25, 1985. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages Pacific Storm Tracker.
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