Richard Alden Martin ’95
In 1991, at his home in Morehead City, Rich Martin was ready to mail the deposit check for the only other school he had applied to when UNC pulled him off its waitlist and offered him a spot. Thrilled to enroll at Chapel Hill, Rich had the time of his life his first semester, and it showed in his grades. He’d come to Carolina to major in political science and go on to law school. And for the first time in his life, he failed.
“I had to pick myself up and regroup,” Rich said. In February of his freshman year, he discovered Army ROTC, which at that time was only available at Duke. But belonging to an organization whose values he believed in, being part of something bigger than himself, was important enough that he trekked to the rival campus for military classes and training, even though his first semester academic performance kept him from getting an ROTC scholarship. He joined the National Guard to help pay his way and made up for lost time by sometimes taking 21 credit hours a semester to graduate with his class as an Army aviator.
Today Lt. Col Martin, a battalion commander in charge of more than 650 soldiers, has incorporated that experience into his leadership philosophy. “I’ll let my soldiers fail,” he said, “but I won’t let them be failures.”
During his military career, Rich has led troops through three tours of active duty in Iraq and another in Afghanistan, bringing them home safely each time. A few years ago, the Army chose him for the honor of enrolling in the Command and General Staff College, a yearlong graduate school program, where he graduated number one in his class of 1,100.
The Army chief of staff presented him with the George C. Marshall Award for leadership.
Retired Lt. Col. Peter Guild, commander of the Army ROTC program at Duke in the 1990s, and retired Col. Bill Causey ’68, then in charge of the ROTC programs in North Carolina and South Carolina, both credit Rich for bringing Army ROTC to UNC. With his drive, enthusiasm and ability to connect with people across the spectrum, Rich recruited several students to sign up. The strong growth of the cadet corps convinced the Army to allow UNC to become an extension center in 1995, with Rich as cadet officer in charge, and two years later to have its own host program. He is the first Carolina Army ROTC graduate to become a battalion commander.
Chris Weld ’95, who went through ROTC with Rich, recalled that they’d leave the dorm at 6:30 in the morning to work out, though other students had been up until 2 or 3 a.m. They spent some training weekends in the field in all kinds of weather when they’d get only an hour or two of sleep the whole weekend. Sometimes Rich would be up 48 hours straight, shivering but motivating people to stay on task, a lot to ask of a 20-year-old.
“The Army has a lot of tough training like that, and a lot of standing around in formation waiting,” Chris said. “Nothing fazed the guy. The worse things got, the happier he seemed to get. We loved Rich, but we hated him, too.”
At a time when the ROTC was consolidating, UNC’s Army ROTC was the only such program to open in the 1990s. Today, UNC’s Army program commissions more military officers than either its Air Force or Navy ROTC and is recognized as one of the top programs of its kind in the country.
Rich has gained a reputation for integrity, competence and courage in the toughest environments. Throughout his career he has been tapped for highly selective programs. Shortly after graduation he entered the Army Initial Entry Rotary Wing pilot training program and learned to fly various types of helicopters; later as a Military Transition Team Commander, he commanded embedded teams training the Iraqi Army in a highly volatile area of that country. While enrolled in the School of Advanced Military Studies, he was selected to serve as commander of an Army operational battalion, an honor achieved by fewer than 10 percent of all Army officers.
“Rich had as much drive as anybody,” Peter Guild said. “We want Army officers who can do a lot of tasks simultaneously. Once he finished school and could focus solely on being an Army officer, all that drive got channeled in a way that has led to a real record of achievement.”
His mentors now expect that Rich will be promoted to general during his career. “You don’t get as far as he’s gotten without understanding the interplay between military force and international relations,” Peter said.
“UNC and the ROTC provided an incubator for his ambitions,” said Steven Jackson ’96, Rich’s Carolina roommate. “UNC can celebrate his achievements as a reflection of the type of people it is educating.”