‘I do everything with her in mind:’ Military teen whose mom died in bombing receives honor

WASHINGTON DC — Noelani Martinez was just nine years old when she was seriously hurt in a terrorist attack at the Brussels airport in 2016.

Her dad and three siblings were also seriously injured in the bombing. Tragically, her mother Gail was killed in the attack.

“There is still that large hole and gap in our hearts from where our mom would be,” Martinez told our Washington News Bureau. “I do everything with her in mind thinking what would make her proud? What would make her happy?”

Martinez is being honored by the nonprofit group Operation Homefront as the Military Child of the Year for the Air Force.

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Martinez’s dad retired from the Air Force in 2021. Col. Melchizedek Martinez is a Purple Heart recipient who served for 29 years.

There are seven recipients in total for the Military Child of the Year awards– one from each branch of the military and the National Guard.

“For us it’s very surreal. It’s still hard for us to grasp how big of a deal it is,” said Martinez about being honored.

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Martinez says the loss of her mother and the injuries to her family has had a major impact on her life.

“I was diagnosed with depression a few years after the incident and it was only then I realized how much it impacted me,” said Martinez.

But even in the face of tremendous tragedy, Martinez has persevered. She is now a junior in high school in San Antonio, Texas.

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Martinez aspires to one day become a composer. She says she got her musical talent from her mother, who she described as having had a beautiful voice.

Martinez has followed in her mom’s footsteps: now playing the drums and signing up for ROTC.

The teen said she’s hoping events like this one honoring military kids can shed light on the challenges unique to kids growing up in a military family. They face frequent moves, leading them to often uproot their lives and start all over.

“As military kids we seek to give back to our community hopefully in a similar way our parents are doing and making an impact the same way they are,” said Martinez. “I think many people who are outside the military need to learn how to be that support pillar for that child.”

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