Prologue: In the midst of writing this article, we received a phone call from my 31 year old son to wish me a Happy Father’s Day. It is always a pleasant surprise to get a phone call from my busy son who has achieved some amazing success in the tough restaurant business in New York City. He has been living his dream working in world-class establishments in the most exciting food city in the world. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. The forced time off has given him the chance to reassess the world of commercial cooking and his future in it. He believes the transition of the industry to automated, robotic food preparation is accelerating and will arrive much sooner than any of us would have believed. His conclusion is that computer programmers will soon be more important in an increasing digital food industry than human sous chefs. What really surprised me was his next statement; he had done some research and was looking into a career in the military as a way of getting the training and experience he needed to enter the digital workforce, not to mention health benefits that have so far been unavailable in the food services industry. Wow!
When most recruits are 18 or 19 years old, entering the military at the age of 31 poses some special challenges. In addition to the obvious lifestyle changes, entering a totally new profession at the bottom rung and working for young managers can be a bit of a shock. As I tried to provide advice to my son, we reflected on the fortunate coincidence of recently interviewing a woman who met her life’s similar challenges by enlisting in the U.S. Navy at the age of 32. 21 years later, Denise Martin is preparing to transition back to civilian life after a successful military career by joining her husband in starting a hunting-focused physical training and guide business in Eastern Washington. And, now we circle back to our topic – the interesting and unique career trails taken by women in outdoor sports.
Her Best is Yet to Come
ss Communications Specialist First Class (MC1) Denise Martin grew up fishing and camping
with her Navy family at various duty stations on both coasts of the United States. Early on, she developed a fascination with photography which progressed from a serious hobby to a 21-year long career. In her early 30s as a single mom, she turned to the Navy for education, work experience, and a steady paycheck. After graduating from Navy Boot Camp at Naval Station Great Lakes outside Chicago and being assigned as a Photographer’s Mate, she headed out to her first
assignment at Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore, California, 45 minutes south of Fresno. NAS Lemoore is home to the west coast strike-fighter community consisting of F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets. Navy photographers work primarily out of base public affairs offices documenting Navy life for internal and external publications. They also provide official photographic record in accident and criminal investigations and other official tasks. One of the perks of working at a Navy Master Jet Base like NAS Lemoore was the opportunity for Denise to get a “backseat” qualification allowing her to fly and take photographs and videos in two-seat versions of ejection seat-equipped tactical aircraft like the Hornet. She also flew with NAS Lemoore’s search and rescue (SAR) helicopter detachment that has responsibility for rescuing Navy aircrew involved in aircraft accidents from the central California Pacific coast to Death Valley. In addition to their Navy mission, NAS Lemoore SAR can respond to civilian emergency situations which allowed Denise to record rescues of lost and injured hikers and mountain climbers throughout the central Sierra-Nevada Mountains.
The September 11 attacks occurred during Denise’s first assignment, putting the entire U.S.
military on a war footing, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. After initial combat operations concluded and U.S. forces began the long-term effort to stabilize the situation in both countries, Navy specialists were sent as Individual Augmentees to support Army and Marine Corps combat support units in positions where their normal Navy functions matched up with ground force positions. Denise enthusiastically volunteered and was the first woman to be part of one of the earliest groups of Navy augmentees. After Army indoctrination and weapons training, Denise was sent to Iraq as part of a combat camera unit to record combat and sustainment operations. This required her to perform her normal photographer functions armed and in full combat gear. Denise qualified in every weapon associated with a U.S. Army infantry
squad to include personal weapons such as the M9 sidearm and M4 carbine, but also light and heavy machine guns and grenade launchers. Based on her training success and experience, Denise was assigned to Navy SEAL Team 3 based in the Norfolk, Virginia area and later assigned to work with other Navy Special Operations units in San Diego, California. She again deployed to Iraq and was the first female to accompany SEAL teams “outside the wire” on actual combat raiding missions.
She followed her work with the SEAL Teams with an assignment to Sicily and duty in a joint-service Tactical Mobile Radio and Television Station unit documenting the of joint and coalition forces all over the Middle East, Central Asia and the former Soviet Republics. One memorable assignment in 2008 took her to Tbilisi, in the Republic of Georgia, where she and her team witnessed, close-at-hand, the invasion of that newly independent nation by Russian troops and armor.
In 2007, Denise transitioned to a new title of Mass Communications Specialist, which was a consolidation of several specialties involved in public affairs support. This consolidation was made to improve efficiency and better align Denise’s skills with commercial industry practices. For Navy Mass Communications personnel, it also meant a broadening of skills and responsibilities to cover all facets and functions of public affairs. Denise found herself involved in planning, scriptwriting, video and print editing and all manner of videography. In support of these increased duties, in 2010 Denise applied for and was chosen to attend Syracuse University’s prestigious Newhouse School from which she earned a degree in broadcast and digital journalism.
In 2012, Denise embarked aboard USS Kidd (DDG-100), a guided-missile destroyer, engaged in anti-piracy operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf and Indian Ocean. She was a member
of the anti-piracy detachment including U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard personnel involved in visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) operations in the open ocean on vessels suspected of piracy and smuggling. This required movement via rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIB, known as “Ribs”) to intercept small vessels with unknown cargoes populated by crews who generally spoke little or no English and who always had to be considered armed and dangerous until determined otherwise. Imagine jumping from a RHIB to a relatively small wooden boat in rough seas carrying personal weapons, body armor, and video recording gear without knowing whether a firefight might erupt in very close confines.
Amid traveling the world, experiencing new cultures, and recording their images, Denise met her future husband, Mass Communications Senior Chief, Aviation Warfare/Surface Warfare, (MCCS AW/SW) Michael Martin. A native of Eastern Washington who grew up hunting and fishing throughout the west, Michael, after retiring from the Navy, embarked on a new career laying the groundwork for their outdoor fitness, guide and travel business. This left Denise with several unique opportunities to finish out her career including temporary duty on the island of Diego Garcia, part of an archipelago in the southern Indian Ocean. Besides being a strategically important location, “D-GAR” has amazing deep sea and reef fishing of which Denise took full advantage. As she approached eligibility for retirement with almost 20 years of service, Denise requested and received orders to the public affairs office on the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier normally homeported in San Diego. She chose this assignment knowing that Carl Vinson was scheduled to move to the naval shipyard in Bremerton, Washington, near Seattle, for a lengthy overhaul. This gave Denise the opportunity to be close to Michael and to prepare for her transition to civilian life. The years she had spent humping combat gear and photographic equipment had taken a severe toll on Denise’s back and joints. Fortunately, the Seattle area contains a large U.S. Army and Air Force installation, Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), which hosts a premier
physical and mental transition program for active duty military personnel. Denise was given a two-month temporary assignment to JBLM’s Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB). The purpose of the WTB is to provide military members like Denise, who have sustained combat injuries, with professional support and the care, therapy, and career transition training needed before they leave military service. As part of the physical therapy and life training, participants take part in various outdoor activities including shooting, hiking, and fishing. Denise was introduced to archery at an indoor range. Compound bows have the advantage of different draw weights that help the development of physical and concentration skills at lower levels of effort. The increase in draw weight also provides feedback and gratification as physical therapy patients’ strength and ability increase. Denise loved the physical and mental challenge she found in archery and plans on adding bow hunting to her outdoor repertoire.
That repertoire currently includes fishing in central Washington’s Columbia River and various other bodies of water in Eastern Washington and Idaho. In addition to fishing, Denise is very excited about taking advantage of hunting and outdoor opportunities with Michael in the Spokane area near the Washington-Idaho border. Michael’s entire family are avid hunters. His parents, approaching their 80s, still participate in guided hunts, including packing in by horseback for North American big game.
Michael currently guides with the Okanogan Valley Guide Service harvesting eastern and central Washington mule and whitetail deer, elk, black bear, and turkey during archery, black powder, and rifle seasons. In addition to his regular guided hunts, Michael takes great pleasure and satisfaction in assisting first time hunters with special physical needs, including recently working with blind hunters who harvested their first turkeys.
Having recently retired in July 2020, Denise is excited about sharing a larger role in Michael’s outdoor life. They own a home and property near Newport, Washington, north of Spokane, on which they have a 50-yard fixed target and a 3-D archery course in addition to having one of the best “home gyms” in the country. Michael, who holds certifications in personal training, sports and exercise nutrition, online personal training, and is a multiple world champion and record holder in powerlifting, provides individualized training, nutrition, and mental strategy programs for hunters to help them get the most out of their hunting experience.
As she transitions from military to civilian life, Denise Martin has many incredible accomplishments for which she can be proud. She made the impressive decision to take control of her life by joining the military. She has flown in the world’s most advanced tactical aircraft and accompanied search and rescue missions into rugged terrain.
She volunteered to take her skills to combat and went into danger with the toughest military professionals on the planet. Along the way, she earned a degree from a highly regarded digital journalism program and received recognition as the best photo-journalist in the Navy. Following her passion for the outdoor life, now she is ready to transition to a new and exciting phase of her life by partnering with her husband in one of the most picturesque and abundant areas of the country. Even though she has experienced more in a 20-year Navy career than most could imagine in a lifetime, the best seems yet to come.