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NEWS | June 9, 2023

Field artillery officer talks mentorship, unity for Pride Month

By Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

Over the course of nearly a decade and a half serving in the Virginia Army National Guard, 2nd Lt. Elizabeth Martin gained four military occupational specialties as an enlisted Soldier before commissioning as a field artillery officer. As an African American woman and a member of the LGBTQ community, she is unique among her peers, which is exactly why she chose to branch field artillery in the first place.  

“It was Brig. Gen. James Zollar, he definitely pushed me toward field artillery,” Martin said, explaining that Zollar, who retired from the Virginia National Guard with more than 35 years of service in 2021, was aiming to diversify the officer ranks within combat arms with junior officers just like Martin. “It would have been super simple for me to go and do logistics, because I’ve done it, or go adjutant [general corps], because I’ve done it, but in order to be provided the opportunities to potentially make it to colonel or even get a star [as a general], the only route that could get me to that path was combat arms.” 

Branching field artillery seemed like the best option for Martin, and today she’s a fire direction officer, or FDO, assigned to the Hampton-based Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. 

“I’m pretty much the one that safes data, sends the mission down to the guns and tells them to fire it off and then hopefully it lands inside the box,” Martin said.  

The transition to field artillery is one that will provide Martin with a much different experience than the one she enjoyed as an enlisted Soldier. She first started her career in the Virginia National Guard as an 88M Motor Transport Operator, a career field she chose largely because of the hefty $20,000 sign-on bonus available when she joined. She deployed in that role in 2013 as a CROW gunner, to Afghanistan with the Emporia-based 1710th Transportation Company, 1030th Transportation Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group.  

After her deployment, Martin transitioned to the Fort Barfoot-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, picking up MOSs along the way. Over the course of around five years, Martin worked supply and admin jobs at the RTI and trained as a 92Y Unit Supply Specialist, 92A Automated Logistics Specialist and a 42A Human Resources Specialist. Then, it was time for the next step and with the VNG’s Officer Candidate School right there at the RTI, she started the program as a staff sergeant, graduated OCS after 18 months and commissioned in March 2022, then headed to her Basic Officer Leader Course in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  

“It was nothing but firehose from the time you walk in to the time you graduate,” Martin said of her six-month BOLC experience. “Out of all the military schools I’ve been to, BOLC was definitely the most challenging.”   

Challenge is something Martin is familiar with. She was raised primarily by her grandparents who ran a strict household. Her mother was involved in her life, but her grandparents tried to limit the contact the two had, for reasons Martin didn’t understand at the time. When she was 15, Martin, who kept herself busy with extracurriculars like track, softball and traveling basketball, grew tired of the rules laid down by her grandparents. With a strict curfew and strict limits on what she could do, who she could see and how she could spend her time, she was fed up. So, she went to live with her mother.  

“This is when I found out something wasn’t right,” Martin said. At her mother’s home, she saw eviction notices, utilities were often shut off and there was never any food in the kitchen. Then, there was the smell. “There was always a funny smell in the house, like something burning.”  

One day, Martin came home from school to find her mother passed out on the floor and then the pieces started to come together. Her mother was suffering from drug addiction and the smell was crack cocaine. She called an ambulance and her mother spent several days in intensive care recovering from what was a bad batch of drugs. When her mother recovered and eventually left the hospital, Martin gave her an ultimatum.  

“I was like, either you’re going to get clean, or go to jail or you’re going to lose your relationship with your daughter,” Martin said. She told her mother, “I want you to be a part of my life,” but the choice, Martin said, belonged to her mother. It wasn’t easy and there were bumps in the road, Martin said, but her mother was able to get clean and has stayed clean ever since. “She used to tell me all the time, battling with drug addiction is one of the most mentally traumatizing things because you’re just so addicted to something that you will spend your last dollar to get it.”  

Eventually, Martin made it to college, to Averett University in Danville, Virginia, where she met her first girlfriend and joined the Virginia National Guard. Since joining in 2009, Martin experienced a varied military career, working as a junior enlisted leader and as a commissioned officer, both in the field and on a staff. Of all her experiences to date, Martin said the best part has been having the opportunity to mentor Soldiers.  

“I would mentor every Soldier that I came across if I could,” Martin said. Mentoring, Martin said, requires effort from both parties involved, and it also requires conversations and the opportunity for members of a unit to get to know one another.  

“Everyone comes from different walks of life,” Martin said. “Everyone, in my opinion, whether they’re white, Black, Asian, Hispanic, we all have more in common that we know, it just starts with a conversation. If we just stop for two seconds and stop looking at race and ethnicity and sexual orientation and just have a genuine conversation, you probably have more in common with someone what you would even begin to realize. It just starts with a genuine conversation.”  

Genuine conversations that lead to finding common ground are part of what Martin hopes to find this LGBTQ+ Pride Month.  

“In my mind, Pride Month, it should really be about unity because you should be able to feel safe, not only in your bubble of people you trust,” Martin said. “But you should be able to feel safe anywhere you go, especially in the ‘land of free.’” 

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