NHS alumnus battling cancer

KateLynn Slaamot

Submitted photos

Eric Martens, 1998 Newcastle High School graduate, has been in the Navy for almost 20 years. He is currently undergoing cancer treatment for Ewing’s sarcoma. 

KateLynn Slaamot

NLJ Correspondent


For almost two decades, Commander Eric Martens has given his service selflessly to the Navy – traveling all over the United States and the world. Martens is a 1998 Newcastle High School graduate and the son of Bob Martens of Newcastle and Judy Hognason of Worland. 

While Martens is currently on medical leave since December for cancer treatments, he was working at the Pentagon starting July of 2018. There, he worked as the requirements officer for the Chief of Naval Operations, Navy Expeditionary Warfare Division, where his job included providing materials to train and equip about 60,000 sailors and marines. He managed the Naval Construction Force and Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group, among others. 

Martens’ journey started at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, he said, where he was studying civil engineering. A U.S. Navy recruiter came to the school, and Martens attended his speech. Martens enlisted in the Navy through a program called the bachelor degree completion program in 2001, in which he was commissioned into the Navy as an officer after graduating from college. 

Martens graduated with a civil engineering degree in 2003, and then he went to Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida, graduating from there in August 2003.

Martens then went to the Navy Civil Engineer Corps, where he learned what his basic job in the Navy would be. He graduated from there in December 2003. 

Martens’ first assignment was assistant resident officer in charge of construction at a naval station in Norfolk, Virginia, where he managed construction of many projects. After that, he went to China Lake, California, as the assistant public works officer at the Naval Air Weapons Station there. He helped manage many things that go into running a base, he said, such as construction, real estate, etc. 

In 2008-09, for about seven months, Martens deployed to Africa as part of a humanitarian mission. According to Martens’ bio, he was part of the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion FOUR as the Alfa Company commander. He was also the Air Detachment assistant officer in charge and the Exercise Cobra Gold officer in charge.

While in Africa, Martens built and worked on numerous projects in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and other places. 

“They were just so appreciative and thankful,” Martens said. His time in Africa was extremely rewarding, he said, and it gives one a “greater sense of purpose.” Martens’ humanitarian missions also included building four schools in Thailand. 

In late 2009, when President Obama announced the “surge into Afghanistan,” Martens was deployed to Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border, and he helped build forward operation bases and command outposts to support the task forces. 

After his deployment to Afghanistan, Martens went to California as the operations officer of the 31st Seabee Readiness Group, in which he trained and equipped Navy Seabees for deployments, among other things. 

He did that until 2012, when he decided to get his master’s degree at the University of Colorado in Civil Engineering, graduating from there in 2013. 

After that stint, he went to the Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut, where he worked as the facilities engineering and acquisition director. 

Martens became part of the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion FIVE in 2016, and he served as the executive officer. There he led a Seabee battalion and completed several missions in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area. The battalion was awarded the Battle ‘E’ and Peltier Award as the Best Seabee Battalion in the U.S. Navy. He then reported to the Pentagon in 2018.

Throughout his many years in the Navy, Martens said, he has realized the importance of “honor, courage and commitment.” He said that one needs to not only be patriotic but also to have a “sense of duty to your country.” 

“You really have to have a love for your country and a love for what you do,” Martens said. 

While Martens’ interest lay in civil engineering, he said, he came to realize that his true fulfillment was found in the people. 

“What I really get enjoyment of is leadership and mentoring,” Martens said, noting the experience and knowledge he has gained in leadership and how to interact with others. 

Martens said that he believes anyone can be a leader, but it requires figuring out one’s “strengths and weaknesses.” One rule of thumb, he said, is to lead by example and not ask those under you to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself. He also learned to adjust his leadership style to those he was leading, because you can’t lead everyone the same way. 

“Leadership is all about getting people on the same page” so that they can accomplish a goal, Martens said. 

Despite all of Martens’ missions, he said that the hardest thing he’s ever had to do is go through cancer. In September, Martens was diagnosed with a “rare bone and soft tissue cancer,” called Ewing’s sarcoma, when a tumor was found. After having the tumor removed, he received the first of 13 rounds of chemotherapy just a few days before Thanksgiving. He has six more to go. 

Martens said that heading into his diagnosis, he was in good mental and physical shape, especially with being in the military. 

“It (cancer) breaks you down to your core,” Martens said. “It makes you value your life to a different level.”

Martens has been undergoing treatments at Memorial Sloan Kettering Sarcoma Cancer Center in Manhattan, New York, and he has been staying in North Stonington, Connecticut, with his family. His wife’s name is Kassandra Jones, also from Newcastle, and he has two daughters – Elizabeth and Juliona. 

He has had a lot of time at home, Martens said, and he has enjoyed being with his family. Elizabeth, his oldest, is home from college because of the pandemic, and he has enjoyed seeing her more. 

“I hope to return to work in the fall of this year after completing chemotherapy,” Martens said, noting that he has been chosen as the public works officer at the Naval Station Newport in Newport, Rhode Island. 

“He’s a great choice,” Christia Ault, Martens’ sister from Newcastle, told the News Letter Journal . “He’s incredible.” 


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