From moving across the world, becoming a teen mom and being distant from family, Patrol Officer Kristina Martinez proved to the world she could adapt to anything.
She became a mom at 16 and had her second child by 19. She drove trucks and busses, taught martial arts, learned massage therapy and joined the national guard before ending up as an officer with Northwest’s University Police Department (UPD).
However, before those adventures, she began her life outside a military base in Michigan. He father was a bomber in the air force navigating B-52 planes.
Growing up in a military family, Martinez was used to moving around a lot. By the time she was in junior high, she had lived in Michigan, Texas, the Philippines and several locations in California.
Martinez reflects on her childhood fondly.
“Who doesn’t think of their childhood as enchanting?” Martinez said. “There is mystery, magic and wonderment. The world was so big.”
Her family was never rich, but she does not remember ever wanting or needing anything.
“In those days, it wasn’t such a materialistic world. When you wanted a new bike, you waited until Christmas to get a new bike,” Martinez said. “But, we had new cars sometimes, boats, campers and a swimming pool in our backyard.”
Although her childhood did not consist of much financial conflict, there was a lot of social conflict in the world around her.
The war in Vietnam was extremely controversial. While Martinez was living in California, the hippie era was in full swing.
“At one point, every teenage child in my neighborhood had run away from home,” Martinez said. “There were a lot of military families, so you had a lot of moms with younger children, missing teenage children and husbands overseas.”
Moving around did not have immediate impacts on Martinez. It wasn’t until her family settled in Missouri she noticed her childhood was different than her peers’.
“Everyone around me had the same relationships since preschool. I couldn’t name any of my friends from elementary schools, or even my teachers,” Martinez said. “Sometimes, I couldn’t even remember some of the names of the schools I attend.”
Martinez appreciated experiencing different environments at such a young age, but she missed the connections her peers made while growing up.
Not only did Martinez miss out on making connections with other peers, she was not around her extended family for most of her life. She believes this may be the reason she wanted to start a family of her own.
“I was 16 when I had my first child. I was pretty naive; everything seemed so idealistic. I didn’t really have any fears,” Martinez said.
Because she was a teen mother, Martinez expected people to look down on her. Because of this, she was sure to keep her daughters clean and well behaved.
“I knew people were looking at us, waiting for me to screw up,” Martinez said.
The most difficult part of becoming a teen mom for Martinez was switching her focus in life. She was a good student and a talented athlete. She imagined pursuing athletics in college, but having a child would not allow that to happen.
“My husband’s mother would always say, ‘Oh hun, don’t worry about what they say about you because you can handle it. If they are picking on you, then they are leaving someone else alone. You can handle it,’” Martinez said.
This philosophy carried into Martinez’s career as a police officer.
Martinez began her journey to becoming a police officer shortly after joining the national guard. She returned home after a weekend of training to find her windows broken.
“So, I called the police and the local police officers came back to me later and they asked me if I wanted a job as a police officer,” Martinez said. “I had never really thought about it before, but it seemed like a great opportunity.”
Martinez stayed with Maryville Public Safety for five years. The rotating schedule was difficult for her mentally and wasn’t good for her family.
She left Maryville Public Safety for massage therapy. One day, she received a ticket on campus and went to UPD to take care of it.
“I took it to Clarence and told him I would trade the ticket for a half-hour massage. He laughed and shoved my ticket in his pocket,” Martinez said. “He told me to come talk to him about a job because he needed another officer.”
Chief Clarence Green offered Martinez a day job with consistent hours which she took gladly.
Lt. of Operations Amanda Cullin works alongside Martinez at UPD. She describes Martinez as a kind and helpful person.
“She will go above and beyond for people, animals and situations to make everything work out and be a better place,” Cullin said. “The Northwest motto of every student, every day is 100 percent Martinez.”
Cullin says Martinez wants to help everyone in every way she can. Even when no one has asked her, Martinez is always there to help.
“She is willing to go out of her way for a student when they have nowhere else to turn, even if it is not law enforcement related,” Cullin said. “She participates in the international students organizations and she is the sponsor for the Northwest Advocates for Animal Awareness.”
Cullin says Martinez is constantly searching out ways to fill the needs of the community.
In addition to being a police officer, Martinez also spends much of her time educating people about the proper care of animals and ensuring their safety.
“My parents were compassionate and I have been around animals my whole life,” Martinez said. “I have a scar from a monkey bite on my wrist, I have been kicked in the chest by horses and bitten by dogs and been scratched by and vaccinated for everything. But, it never deterred me.”
At one point, Martinez had 32 dogs, hogs, cattle and horses living on a farm with her husband and daughter. She said, looking back, there was no way she was giving each animal the care they needed.
“My total direction now is to reach out and help young people rescue animals, but don’t bite off more than you can chew,” Martinez said. “It isn’t easy. Every animal is like having another child in the home.”
Martinez does warn Maryville residents, if she makes a visit to your property, she will be no nonsense.
“A dog on a chain makes me insane,” Martinez said. “I come off a little harsh. If I am going to go up to you property about mistreatment of animals, it is going to be pretty intense.”
Although life has gotten pretty tough for Martinez over the years, she never gave up hope things were going to work out.
“There is something in place,” Martinez said. “If you keep your eyes open and be thankful for things, you see all the time how life worked out.”