Columbus Hospice honors 20-year Army veteran

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - It's never too late to say thank you to a veteran, and that's exactly what Columbus Hospice did Tuesday.

As part of its national program called "We Honor Veterans," they paid tribute to a retired soldier suffering with a life-threatening disease.

Santiago Paco Martinez was a soldier and a correctional officer with the Muscogee County Sheriff's Office.

Paco was diagnosed with the debilitating Lou Gehrig's disease two years ago. He's now confined to a wheelchair and can't talk. Although Paco has lost his ability to speak, he can still communicate with his family through a computer attached to his wheelchair, and it's happening through the sticker on his nose that acts as a mouse.

Overcome with joy, Paco was recognized by Columbus Hospice and pinned by a decorated soldier on their behalf on Tuesday, April 8.

His son, a Mercer University graduate in biomedical engineering, was among the crowd honoring his dad Tuesday.  Santrell Martinez says his father's illness has inspired him to become a certified fitter of prosthetics.

"We went to Vietnam and fitted amputees with prosthetics and it was around the time my dad got sick too and seeing that I can help people move and be their former has really spurred me on," Santrel said.

Paco's family from New York and Tampa, Fla. were there for support.

"The only way we can communicate with him is through the computer and it's very difficult but we are with him, we love him so much we are a very close family and he is our little brother."

Retired Staff Sergeant Santiago, aka "Paco" Martinez, courageously served 20 years with the United States Army as an Infantryman from October 1983 through October 2003 and he received his 3rd Meritorious Service Medal.

SSG Martinez completed various demanding schools of which made him Battle Staff, Air Assault and Airborne qualified.

SSG Martinez also earned many awards during his military tenure to include the Expert Infantryman Badge,

Combat Infantryman Badge and Joint Service Medal during Operation Just Cause, the hostile conflict with Manuel Noriega in Panama. He has also held several high profile positions to include Drill Sergeant, an Airborne Instructor and an Instructor for the School of Americas in Fort Benning, Ga.

Once Santiago Martinez retired from the military, he joined the Muscogee County Sheriff Department in Columbus. He worked there for 10 years as a Correctional Officer until his retirement in September 2012 due to medical reasons.

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