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Juan and Christine Martinez have been selected as grand marshals for Phoenix's Veterans Day parade. (Photo by Martha Maurer/KTAR)
CHANDLER, Ariz. -- For Juan and Christine Martinez, serving their country has been a family affair. They are Navy veterans who together have given 46 years of dedication, commitment and courage to our nation. The Martinez' met in 1987 while they were on the USS McKee at the submarine base in Point Loma in San Diego, Calif.

They have been together since.

"It was a challenge, without a doubt," said Juan.

Over their 25 years of marriage, Juan and Christine had to have plenty of tough talks with their two kids, Jennica, now 23 and Cabriel, now 15.

"Our kids have grown knowing there's always going to be a change of course," Juan added.

That's because for most of their marriage up until their recent retirements from the Navy, the Martinez' have been sharing more of a single-parent status. At many points in their naval careers, they've both been separated by oceans.

"It was hard. I missed my daughter's first day of kindergarten," said Christine. "I missed birthdays and holidays."

However, to this couple, answering the call of duty was their purpose.

"Somebody has to answer that call, somebody has to do it," she said. "It's being a part of something bigger."

The Martinez' served during many times of peace and times of conflict, traveling through different countries and risking their lives. Their deployments included Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Christine was also deployed to Kuwait during operation Iraqi Freedom/Enduring Freedom.

"We would do patrols and security watches for high value assets, like the ships that were bringing tanks for the troops in Iraq," said Christine.

During her 10-month deployment in Kuwait, the struggles of having a family separated by thousands of miles sunk in.

"I was the mom and the dad at times," said Juan. "It wasn't easy. I had a big leadership role as well and needed to juggle with everything."

Giving 22 and 24 years of their lives to the U.S. Navy, Christine and Juan, respectively, would do it over again in a heartbeat.

"Just wearing the uniform makes me feel proud," said Juan. "I'm grateful that I got to do that."

As for their children, growing up with not knowing if their mother or father would be with them in their next stage of their life was difficult.

"Sometimes they didn't love it," said Christine. "But, they understand someone has to answer that call of duty."

Explaining to their children they would be apart was challenging. Christine remembers her daughter would get fevers as Christine's deployment neared.

"So I would set up her vitamins. I would tell her when you finish them I'll be home," she said.

Each day, Jennica would count down the days her mom would be back as she took each one of her vitamins.

Christine and Juan remember the tough questions her children would ask them as they left their home to go fight for their country.

What if they had to kill somebody? Why did they have to leave?

But the Martinez' answers were always about making sure their kids knew the meaning of their sacrifice.

"The things I did were for my family, but also for all Americans," said Christine. "It's made all of us who we are. Our kids are strong, they are patriotic."

Juan retired from the Navy in 2008, and Christine this last April. However, their service to our nation hasn't stopped. They continue to honor our fallen soldiers in way of Funeral Duty and oftentimes participate in the Veterans Day Parade in Phoenix. Christine now works at the military division at the University of Phoenix and is a facilitator for the Returning Warriors program. There, she helps veterans cope with the transition into civilian life.

"We went through a very difficult time transitioning back to being a family again," said Christine.

The Martinez' feel humbled they have been selected as grand marshals for the Veterans Day Parade in Phoenix.

"It's an honor, a courage and commitment as a sailor to go out there, to be a part of this" said Juan.

Fighting back tears, Juan's words echo the humility he feels knowing many sailors didn't get to come home.

"Just wearing the uniform, it makes me feel very proud. I would do it again," he said.

Each Veterans Day, the Martinez family watches the parade. This year, they will share their pride and joy representing those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

Martha Maurer, News Editor

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