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Sergeant Stephen Martin
Rhinelander Police Department, Wisconsin (age: 39)
End of Watch: July 1, 2004 (Iraq)

"" Sgt. Steve Martin

Shortly after Stephen Martin finished a tour of duty in South Korea with the Army’s famed 101st Airborne Division, he went to work as a detective with the Mercer County (New Jersey) Prosecutor’s Office.  One of the reasons Steve was given the job was because of his extensive knowledge of firearms and tactical procedures.  He worked sexual assaults and homicides and he also assisted with grand jury investigations for the county.  He had a tremendous personality, was very energetic, and had a good sense of humor.  Steve was a very good investigator and according to one of his friends, he and another detective loved taking down the drug dealers in Trenton.

Although Steve liked working for Mercer County, and he was good at what he did, he still wanted more and that’s why he eventually ended up in Wisconsin at Rhinelander P.D.  He wanted to be a patrol officer and work the streets.  So, in February of 1996, Stephen Martin joined the Rhinelander Police Department.  Rhinelander is about 130 miles northwest of Green Bay and it is the County seat of Oneida County.

The Rhinelander Police Department began its Bicycle Patrol Program in 2000 as part of a Community Oriented Policing Unit.  Stephen Martin became an active member and he spent most of his summers on bicycle patrol monitoring Rhinelander’s downtown area, neighborhoods and city parks.  He and another Rhinelander officer conducted bicycle rodeos and they also instructed children how to ride their bikes safely.  He also worked in the city’s schools and Steve was an active member of the department’s Field Training Program. 

In January of 2003, Steve joined the Army Reserves and he was assigned to the 330th Military Police Detachment based in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  Sheboygan is a couple of hundred miles southeast of Rhinelander, about midway between Green Bay and Milwaukee.  In December of 2003, Steve learned that his unit would soon deploy to Iraq and then early in 2004 they did.  His unit worked as military police in several Iraqi cities, eventually ending up in Mosul, located in northwestern Iraq.  One of Steve’s main responsibilities was training new Iraqi police officers.

On June 24, 2004, Steve Martin and two other soldiers were on security duty at a police training academy located in Mosul.  A suicide bomber approached the academy compound in a dilapidated pickup truck full of explosives.  He obviously intended to drive his truck into the academy building while everyone was asleep.  Steve and his two comrades heard the fast approaching vehicle, which rammed its way through the compound gates, and from their position on the rooftop they opened fire.  They were able to shoot the driver but the truck swerved, hit an obstacle and then exploded.  As a result of their quick actions all of the individuals inside of the academy were safe and they were not killed by this suicide bomber.  

One of the two men with Staff Sgt. Steve Martin at the police academy in Mosul was Sgt. Charles “Chuck” Kiser, of Cleveland, Wisconsin. Sgt. Kiser was killed in the suicide attack. The other soldier was Sgt. 1st Class Jerome Benzschawel, and although he was wounded, he escaped serious injury. But, when the truck bomb exploded Steve Martin suffered severe head and abdominal injuries. He was eventually flown to a medical facility in Germany and then he was flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Several days later, on July 1st, Staff Sgt. Stephen Martin died.

In this picture from Iraq , Steve Martin is seated and Sgt. Charles Kiser, 37, who was also with the 330th, is standing.
Steve Martin shaking hands with Sgt. 1st Class Jerome Benzschawel

At a religious service at Rhinelander High School, Stephen Martin was eulogized as a man of both humor and honor. Fellow soldiers, law enforcement officers, firefighters and members of the Rhinelander community silently paid tribute. Some gave Stephen a final salute or made the sign of the cross, and some wiped tears from their eyes as they remembered. The service honoring Stephen’s life, and his ultimate sacrifice, began with a selection of songs that were performed by his son, Seth. Seth played his father’s guitar as he sang these songs.

One of Steve’s police officer buddies, who worked with him at Rhinelander P.D., told several stories that showed his well-known sense of humor and his reputation for even being a prankster at times. He said that Steve, as a joke, one time even put a dead squirrel in another officer’s patrol unit. The mourners also heard that one of Steve’s favorite phrases was “ride hard, shoot straight, and speak the truth.”

When Stephen’s father, himself a minister, eulogized his son, he recalled an incident from back when his son was just 16 or 17 years old. Stephen got up behind the pulpit at the church and placed both of his hands on the pulpit just like a preacher might do while he was delivering a sermon. He confidently told his father, “I think I’d make a good preacher.” This, of course, made his father feel very good, and proud. But then, after a few more moments, Steve said “Nope,” as he stepped away from the pulpit. “I’ll just go into police work. It’s a lot easier to bust’em and book’em than it is to get their heads straightened out.”

Steve’s father also told the huge gathering of mourners about a conversation he had with his son just before he was deployed to Iraq. Steve told his father that he would rather die than to come home maimed. “We as a family believe God answered that prayer and Steve is in a better place,” his father said.

Steve, according to another police officer and friend, was a fan of Ernest Hemingway. And, in Hemingway’s famous book “The Old Man and the Sea” there was one particular quotation that Stephen really liked.

“A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” “Steve was not defeated,” the officer said with conviction.

Seth Martin, Stephen’s 21 year old son, said his father knew he was headed for danger. “Before he left my father told me he was fully prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice,” Seth Martin said.

Stephen’s wife, Kathy, said that after 9-11, her husband wanted to do something. “He died doing what he loved to do. With a gun in his hand, fighting for his country.”

Fallen Heroes Memorial

Fallen Heroes Memorial is an online memorial for all of the fallen service members of Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq). This outstanding site includes photos and visitor submitted messages.

Warren Jacobs of Rhinelander posted this message:
“Sgt. Martin and Family, I want to take a moment to thank you for all you have given, not only as a soldier but while you were wearing the uniform of the Rhinelander Police Department. The summer before you left for Iraq, at the Fourth of July Parade, you were handing out bike helmets at the Police Station. My then 3 year old son Jared waited patiently (with a little help) for a helmet. When the helmets were all but gone, you handed him the very last one, which happened to be the only one with designs. I want you to know that he wears it every time he rides or rollerblades and we will keep it as a token of your service to our community and our Nation. God Bless You and Your Family. You will forever be in our prayers and thoughts. God Speed Sgt. P/S That speeding ticket you gave me a few years ago....I deserved it !!”

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There are many emotional sentiments posted at this site, but perhaps one of the most touching comes from James A. Reynolds, in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. Mr. Reynolds didn’t know Sgt. Martin, but Sgt. Martin gave Mr. Reynolds the gift of life. In his post he says:
“It is very apparent by all the testaments herein that Stephen Martin made many sacrifices as a police officer, as a soldier and as a father and husband. For his sacrifices in the line of duty for his country we can together, as Americans, be very thankful. However, there is one more very special sacrifice which Stephen made, and for which I will be forever grateful. In the hours after Stephen’s passing, I was very fortunate to receive his kidney in transplant surgery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is because of Stephen Martin that I can enjoy a normal life, rather than a life on dialysis, enduring all the other health problems which arise out of kidney failure. I know that you are all remembering and honoring Stephen for many different reasons. I share in those remembrances, and I will continue to remember him when I think of the quality of life with which I have now been blessed. Thank you Stephen, from myself and my family.”

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In a message apparently posted from his fellow soldiers of the 330th MP Det., they say, “SSG Martin, it was an honor and a privilege to serve with you. We will never forget.” Then, there’s a story about what happens when a policeman finally faces God.

“The policeman stood and faced his God, which must always come to pass. He hoped his shoes were shining just as brightly as his brass.

‘Step forward now, policeman. How shall I deal with you? Have you always turned the other cheek? To my church have you been true?’

The policeman squared his shoulders and said, ‘No Lord, I guess I ain’t, because those of us who carry badges can’t always be a Saint. I’ve had to work most Sundays, and at times my work was rough. Sometimes I have been violent, because the streets are awfully tough. But I never took a penny, that wasn’t mine to keep. I worked a lot of overtime when the bills just got too steep. And I never passed a cry for help, though at times I shook with fear. And sometimes, God forgive me, I’ve wept unmanly tears. I know I don’t deserve a place among the people here. They never wanted me around except to calm their fear. If you’ve a place for me here Lord, it needn’t be so grand. I never expected or had too much, but if you don’t I’ll understand.’

There was a silence all around the throne where the Saints had often trod, as the policeman waited quietly for the judgment of his God. ‘Step forward now, policemen, you’ve borne your burdens well. Come walk a beat on Heaven’s streets. You’ve done your time in Hell.’ ”

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From the Rhinelander P.D. web site

“Steve Martin was a true American Hero and he is dearly missed by his friends, his family, and the members of the Rhinelander Police Department.  As a remembrance of his life, the Steve Martin Memorial Golf Tournament is held each year in his honor.  Proceeds from the tournament go to support children's charities both locally and nationally.”

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Sgt. Charles Kiser may not have been a sworn law enforcement officer, but when this M.P. died in Iraq he was doing the job that all cops do, he was trying to protect the lives of the people around him. Because of this, law enforcement officers from around the State of Wisconsin mourned him as they would any other fallen officer. Large police processions always occur whenever an officer dies in the line of duty, but the police motorcade for Sgt. Kiser was apparently the first time in history that Wisconsin police officers paid such a tribute to a fallen solider.

In January of 2005, Sgt. Benzschawel was honored for his actions in Mosul. Although he received a Purple Heart and the Army Commendation Medal with a “V” for valor, his thoughts were of his fellow soldiers Stephen Martin and Charles Kiser, who both died as a result of the explosion at the Mosul police academy.

Staff Sgt. Martin would eventually receive a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, a Meritorious Service Medal, an Army Commendation Medal and an Army Achievement Medal. And, just after Stephen’s military activation the Rhinelander Police Department had promoted him to the rank Sergeant.