Major Michael D. Martino, 32, of Irvine, CA, was killed November 2, 2005 when his and Major Gerald M Bloomfield's AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter crashed while flying in support of security and stabilization operations near Ar Ramadi, Iraq. Both Marines were with Marine Light-Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, California. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, their unit was attached to 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, II MEF.
Michael David Martino was born on January 31st, 1973, on the island of Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands where his parents Robert and Sybil were employed by U.S. Government contractors. Mike was the youngest of three children with a brother, Robert and sister, Lauri. As a young child, Michael already knew he wanted to be a pilot.
Mike and his family moved to Irvine, CA, when he was 8, where he grew up and fell in love with Southern CA. As a teenager in Irvine, at first light Michael would ride his bike to the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station to attend the military air shows. He would be the first to arrive and the last to leave. He spent hours talking to the pilots and exploring the planes.
In 1996, Mike graduated from the University of California, San Diego, with a B.A. in Economics and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. In the summer of 1998, he graduated from The Basic School (TBS) as a 1stLt and reported to Pensacola, Florida, for flight training where he excelled in the flight syllabus. With his grades, he could have flown anything he wanted, but Mike wanted to fly helicopters. In January of 1999, he checked into a helicopter training squadron. Since Cobra helicopter slots were very hard to come by, he made sure he was number one to guarantee himself a slot on the West Coast. Captain Martino was winged in July of 2000. He was later deployed to Okinawa for 13 months where he stewed over not being involved in the battle in Iraq.
When he returned from Okinawa, Capt Martino volunteered for a Forward Air Controller (FAC) tour with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines at Camp Pendleton, CA. From February to September 2004 his battalion was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Fallujah, located in western Anbar Province, was considered the wild west of Iraq. It was one of the most dangerous places in Iraq and home of the notorious head of Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Al Zarqawi. Michael, call sign "Oprah," was attached to Echo Company and commanded by Capt. Doug Zembiec (later known as the Lion of Fallujah). Their formidable task was to rid the city of Fallujah of insurgents.
As a Forward Air Controller (FAC), "Oprah" was responsible for calling in air strikes on enemy positions in support of his Marine unit. Mike would volunteer to go on patrols into the city with squads because being there on patrol was always a big moral boost to the younger Marines knowing that if they got into trouble he would call in the AC-130 gunship to neutralize the enemy. Many times when "Oprah" went out on patrol there was no air support overhead, but he went out just to keep morale high among the young Marines. During many operations, he would also deploy forward with Fire Support Teams (FIST) which included the Marine snipers. During this tour he earned the Combat Action Ribbon and the Bronze Star with Valor for his heroic actions which resulted in the saving of many American lives and in the deaths of numerous insurgents.
In December 2004 after returning from Iraq, Michael (new call sign "Martini") got his wish and joined the World Famous Gunfighters HMLA-369 squadron (a light attack helicopter squadron) out of Camp Pendleton, CA. While he came up to speed on flying again, he was assigned as the Squadron's Administration Officer. He flew AH-1 W Super Cobra helicopters with this Squadron for almost a year and considered the Gunfighters his family.
In August 2005, HMLA-369 was deployed to Iraq's Anbar Province, again one of the most dangerous places in Iraq. On 2 November 2005, while flying in support of security operations near Ar Ramadi, Iraq, Michael's helicopter was shot down by a surface-to-air missile (SA-16). Both Michael and his fellow pilot Gerald Bloomfield were killed. At the time of his death Michael was a Captain, but was soon thereafter posthumously promoted to Major as paperwork had already been submitted prior to his death. In addition to a Purple Heart, Michael earned an Air Medal for Valor for heroic actions on previous missions during this second tour in Iraq. Maj. Martino is buried in Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery.
To quote his friends and fellow Marines: "Mike Martino was not one of those guys who would monopolize dinner conversations nor would be first to sing karaoke at the bar. He was a quiet, reserved guy who could light up a room with his smile. Once you got to know him, he was a loyal, trusting and dedicated friend. Mike was always best in smaller or one-on-one situations. He was thoughtful and honest and a very good listener hence his first call sign "Oprah." Mike was intense in everything he did. He studied constantly and was always striving to be the best. He was competitive with himself and eagerly absorbed knowledge in an effort to better his skills as a pilot and as an Officer of Marines. He wasn't the kind of guy that ever wanted to be the center of attention, but he genuinely enjoyed being part of the group. When you harassed him about his call sign "Oprah" or some other point, he would shrug it off with a quick story, never really getting into it because he just didn't want the spotlight. To those closest to him, Mike Martino wore his heart on his sleeve. He wasn't a big talker about feelings, but his actions spoke volumes about his dedication to his friends and family. He loved his brother, Robert, and his sister, Lauri, and never missed an opportunity to talk about his nieces, Devyn and Sydney. He was sarcastic and funny...a friend we could trust to not think less of us because of our antics and a person who forgave everyone for their faults including those who had done him wrong. It took time to get to know Mike Martino. He was not self-absorbed, but shy... not arrogant, but constantly striving to be better at everything he was: brother, son, friend and Marine. We were fortunate because we did know him. He was a Gunfighter and he was our friend and brother."
Michael Martino displayed courage and dedication most fully, his family said, in his career as a Marine Corps helicopter pilot. He was a true patriot. He loved his country, the Marine Corps and flying. He believed fully in what the American military were doing in Iraq and he was proud to be a part of it.
The following are excerpts from a letter from Michael's Commanding Officer to his parents a week after his death: "On 2 Nov, he was providing overhead security for a convoy traveling between bases, when his aircraft was engaged by the enemy near Ar Ramadi, Iraq. The attack caused a catastrophic loss of several main components of the aircraft, and it fell from the sky. An Army Second Lieutenant, Mark Procopio, was killed by an IED racing to Mike's aid, stating simply "they need our help, they are all alone" as he gathered his platoon and volunteered for the mission. We lost 3 great men that day - heroes each one of them. The sheer fact that we have men and women in our society today that are willing to volunteer to serve this great country of ours, defending freedom and liberty on a hostile foreign shore, continues to amaze me. Sacrifice, selfless service and uncommon valor are the staples of this generation of American Service members, to which Mike was a part. We miss him terribly. He will never be forgotten. Gunshot 66 - ... We Will Never Forget"