“… Saw it as a way out…”

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Tara R. Abrahams
  • 940th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Promoting to chief master sergeant was an indescribable moment for Martez D. Banks, 940th Operations Group superintendent. He felt fortunate to accept such a trusted position, however, he never planned to climb so high up the ranks.

“It wasn’t a relief,” he said, explaining how pinning on chief was never his goal. “It wasn’t like ‘I’ve arrived.’”

Serving decades in the military wasn’t the plan either. When he enlisted, his goal was simply to get in.

“The Air Force was my first choice, but they wouldn’t accept me because I had flat feet,” the chief said. “The Navy was the only branch of service to accept me back in ‘86.”

Joining the military was not an obvious option for young Banks. He grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and was not surrounded by adults with regular employment.

“Being an inner city youth, I didn’t know about keeping a job because that wasn’t part of my family structure, except for one person,” he said.

To be brought up in that environment was a harsh reality for a child.

“When you think of Detroit, it’s literally inner city. All these movies you see with the crime, grime, drama, murders and drugs- all of that’s true. If you don’t know any better, or you’re not exposed to another way of life, you think this is what you’re supposed to do in order to survive.”

Most of Banks’ role models were involved in unscrupulous behaviors. Other than his elderly grandmother, he had never seen any of his family hold a job or stay out of trouble.

“My uncles were pretty big in the drug scene and I saw my mother do a lot of unlawful things in order to survive,” he said. “It would have been pretty easy to pick up on those things, but I didn’t necessarily have that calling.”

Banks knew he wanted more from a young age.

When he was about eight years old, he was sent to live in his first boys’ home. Banks had been beaten and abused by his mother, and tried running away a few times. On his fourth try, the neighborhood men brought him back home and his mother called the police.

“She told the police I was unruly, I was disobedient and she couldn’t handle me,” the chief said. “So listening to her side of the story, they put me in the boys’ home.”

A few years later, after Banks was released from his third boys’ home, he was brought back to continue living with his mother. It wasn’t long before his mother called his father and demanded he come get him or she was going to kill him.

“At the age of 13, I moved to Dalton, Georgia, to live with my father’s sister,” Banks said, recalling the move as a 180-degree change of life.

It was supposed to be a summer trip, but he ended up staying a few years before his mother revoked guardianship. Banks had to move back to Detroit to help her with his new baby brother. It didn’t take long before she said she was going to kill him and he went back to Dalton.

After Banks graduated high school in Georgia, he didn’t know where he wanted to go next or what he wanted to do.

“Georgia is known for carpet manufacturing,” Banks said. “Most of the jobs centered around working in a textile-type of environment, but I wanted something better. There was always a call to go back to the streets of Detroit, but I didn’t really want to do that either because I was never the kind of person to be in the streets.”

He finally found a sense of direction after watching the movie, “An Officer and a Gentleman.” He wanted to follow in the footsteps of the main character and fly in the military.

“I saw how Richard Gere went from someone who was basically nothing, to Officer Candidate School course and then got his wings,” Banks said. “That was my inspiration at the time. If he could do it, I could do it.

So instead of a life on the streets or in a factory, he swore into the Navy.

“I saw light at the end of the tunnel,” he said, describing his new-sought opportunity. “Some might even say ‘saw it as a way out.’”

He ended up liking the military. It was a steady job with a steady income.

“There was nothing the military could do to me that was anywhere close to the abuse and the scrutiny I grew up with as a child,” the chief said.

It wasn’t smooth sailing once he got in though. His dream of flying was quickly crushed, due to an irregular heartbeat. It was shattered again when he was selected for the Navy’s BOOS (Broaden Opportunity for Officer Selection) program, a program similar to the Air Force’s Deserving Airmen program, but leadership didn’t follow through with his paperwork.

“There were quite a few times I wanted to give up,” he said.

He persisted though. From Navy, to Naval Reserve, to Air Force: he has not yet had a break-in-service.

Banks said it wasn’t until he took on the special duty of first sergeant that he felt everything he had gone through was for a purpose.

Now, his plan is to help as many people as he can. He would especially like to advise those who have gone through similar situations, whether it is drugs and abuse, or the daily rigors of struggling with their leadership.

“Keep pressing, try to find that one good mentor and keep hope.”

(Each month, we share a story of a reservist through a photo, simple quote or article. The goal of this project, similar to the 9th Public Affairs' Faces of Beale, is to learn more about Citizen Airmen. Whether traditional or full-time, every reservist has a unique story and adds to what makes us part of the world's greatest Air Force.)