Abraham “Abe” Martinez-Ayala, Graduated Sentinel

Specialist, U.S. Army National Guard
Master of Social Work, San Jose University

Watching the horrific events of 9/11 unfold as a young teenager, Abefelt compelled to rise and defend his country by joining the military as soon as he could graduate, becoming the first person in his family to enlist.

He served six years in the Army National Guardwhich included a deployment to Iraqwhere he was injured.While on a mission with a security convoy tasked to safely clear the road of traffic, Abe was the gunner on top of a vehicle whenan intermittent explosive device (IED)five feet away detonated, sending shrapnel everywhere and severely injuring everyone in proximity. Even though he had suffered a severe concussion and sprained neck, his team had to continue the mission before going to the nearest hospital and receiving care. After treatment, he received a Purple Heart andan honorable dischargefrom the military in 2012. Upon returning home to the San Francisco Bay Area; however, he realized he was not the same person as when he left. In addition to the residual pain and issues from his injuries, Abe found himself unexpectedly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD) in the form of flashbacks of Iraq during the day, nightmares at night, and being afraid to drive on the roads for fear of an IED or snipers on top of buildings.

After a year of working with doctors and counselors at the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital and the support of his family, including his new bride, Abe finally felt like he was in a good spot physically and mentally again. Abedecided he was ready to go back to school to get his master’s degree in social work so that he could help other veterans who were going through the same issues he had struggled with during his transition.A coworker suggested he apply to theSentinels of Freedom program where he was readily accepted for the Fall 2018 Cohort. During his time with SoF, Abe was provided with financial support in the form of a monthly housing subsidy for 24 months, mentoring opportunities, networking connections, and personalized support from his case manager who was able to get a standing desk and ergo chair to accommodate his disabilities approved.

Unfortunately, afteronly one semester in his master’s program, his wife died very suddenly and unexpectedly. Devastated, Abraham made the decision to continue his schooling and complete his degree knowing it’s what his wife would have wanted. Through sheerwill and determination to fulfill his commitment to honor his late wife, Abe graduated on time inMay 2020from San Jose State University with a Master of Social Work. Upon graduation,he was offered and accepted a positionwith the VA as a social worker at HUD-VASH, a program that helps homeless veterans with finding stable housing and helps the veteran find resources to be able to treat other issues that might arise with them. When speaking with Abraham, he credits the support from Sentinels of Freedom for helping him stay in school and finish his degree.

The most beneficial part of SOF was the support that was provided by everyone at SOF. Even with me moving to San Jose and it not working out, they were able to support me in finding me a place. SOF also supported me after my wife passed away, always asking how I was doing and if SOF could do anything to support me… I was grateful that I had the support from the entire SOF family. SOF even helped me connect with HeadStrong, which is an organization that helps veterans with receiving mental health support with a therapist. I have been able to process not just my grief, but also many other emotions that I had because of my childhood and the military. This is all thanks to SOF.

Bridge for Education Program


 Sentinels of Freedom’s Bridge for Education program helps severely wounded post-9/11 veterans with comprehensive personal support and financial assistance as they complete their higher education and achieve success in their post-military careers.

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