A disabled veteran, musician, and odd-jobber, Marble Falls resident Alan Martin III knew he wanted to join the military since he was a “little-bitty kid.” Although his great-grandfathers served during World War II and a grandfather during Vietnam, he doesn’t remember what actually inspired him to sign up.
“I just always felt like military service was something I needed to do — we all needed to do if we wanted to live here in America,” said Martin, who rose to Private E-5 while in service. “You go to school and teachers tell you a how good American is supposed to be and all that, and I thought we all need to stand up and make sure that we can continue that.”
He joined the military as soon as it was possible, going through the delayed entry program when he was a junior in high school and basically waiting on the edge of his seat to turn 18 and sign a contract with the Army. The 9/11 terrorist attacks happened his senior year.
“I remember thinking there’ll be something for us to do now,” he said.
A french horn player in his high school band, Martin decided he wanted to be part of the U.S. Army band.
“Even though I knew I was in the band, I knew bands were not immune to deployment,” he said. “That’s what I came for. I would have gone back to Iraq or Afghanistan as many times as they wanted to send me.”
He was stationed at Fort Hood in Killeen for his entire seven years, deploying twice to Iraq, the first from March 2004 to January 2005 and the second from October 2006 to October 2007.
Both times he went to Iraq, he was stationed in Camp Liberty, right outside of Baghdad. He describes the base as cushy, with Internet, TV, and the works.
“That did not keep the enemy from lobbing mortars and rockets at us all day every day,” Martin said. “They’d go in the night and set them up on timers and stuff so they’d shoot at us automatically. It was not without its perils.”
Often, when the Army band goes downrange, members supplement the military police and guard the gates.
“We didn’t get to kick doors in,” he said. “We didn’t get to raid a lot of houses or anything like that, but I flew a lot of places in a lot of helicopters and I drove a lot of places downtown in convoys, so the danger was there for all of us,”
Early on, he rode in a convoy all the way from Kuwait to Baghdad, a three-day trip. For someone who had never left Texas, let alone the United States, it was a whole different world.
“On the way, I saw some guys in the distance with a herd of camels, like something you’d read about in the Bible,” he said. “Flying over the cities in helicopters, too, and seeing the desolation that the country was in to begin with, it made me appreciate what we have in America.”
Being deployed was not without its highlights. Far from it, Martin said. For one, he got to open for then up-and-coming country music singer-songwriter Granger Smith on his USO tour.
“I played harmonica in our country band, and we got to open for him and his show when he was just a little guy,” Martin said. “He wasn’t a big star yet.”
Being away from home was difficult, however. Some of the people in his unit were sent divorce papers. No cellphones were available until his second deployment, and even then, daily contact with family was not possible. Martin considers himself one of the lucky ones; his family stayed together.
“It’s sad when they say, ‘Form up, fall in,’” he said. “You need to give your last hugs and stuff. You fall into that formation and start going out the door. You’re on mission now. From then on, we’re on mission.”