By Capt. Phoebe Sisk, Texas State Guard
DALLAS (Dec. 21, 2021) – ‘Tis the season for spreading holiday hope and joy. Each year, members of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) find ways to go above and beyond the call of duty.
One such Guardsman is Cpl. Derek Martinez of Mesquite, near Dallas.
In addition to serving as the main coordinator in the 1st Brigade, 3rd Battalion for the annual TXSG Toy Drive, Martinez spends personal time supporting youth in need of extra cheer in his annual role as Santa. Specifically, he hosts visits with children undergoing difficult life circumstances, many who are so young and innocent - they delight in the magic of Old St. Nick.
"The greatest gift I am spreading is forgetfulness," Martinez said. "I know it seems odd, but for the 20 minutes these children are visiting with Santa, they are forgetting that mom is mobilized to the border, or that dad is working graves (night shifts) as a police officer. They forget that there is a Child Protective Services court hearing coming up or they forget that dad is working in healthcare on the COVID front lines.”
Since 2020, Martinez has brought additional comfort and joy to the hearts of young Texans in need, including children in foster care or adoption proceedings, and active military, law enforcement, and fire/EMT families.
The act of giving is almost second nature to Martinez, a three-year veteran of the TXSG. In addition to his military duties, Martinez works as a regional manager for Imaging IoT and security at Konica Minolta Business Solutions in north Texas. These positions have given him a greater understanding of working with people as individuals.
Local foster agencies have coordinated visits directly with “Santa” Martinez.
"Who knew that Santa knows exactly how to interact with children in foster situations and has such a jolly sense of humor for all ages," said Jade McCoy Alsina of Dallas Foster Closet. "Everyone loved him and we are already looking forward to next year!"
Martinez’s gift for having sensitive interactions with foster children may well come from being a foster parent himself.
“Santa came by our home and surprised our children with a visit. I have to admit, I cried,” said parent Lindsay Harrell after a recent visit by the ‘Jolly Old Man’. “Santa came in with his big jolly smile, naughty and nice book (my kiddos were on the nice list!), sang, read a book, and talked to each child one on one. It was wonderful to see their faces glow with surprise and joyful hearts. I hope to make it a yearly tradition as it was definitely an unforgettable moment that my family and I will cherish.”
Due to the realities of the current pandemic, Martinez has found innovative ways to connect with young Texans. He’s has taken to social media, where parents and guardians can set up virtual visits with Santa.
“Children are dealing with a lot but for 20 minutes they get to sing, they get to smile, and they get to laugh so hard their ribs hurt; that's the joy I'm trying to spread," said Martinez.
Martinez’s selflessness and generosity of spirit exemplify the best traditions of the Texas State Guard, whose motto is “Texans Serving Texas.”
The mission of the Texas State Guard is to provide mission-ready forces to assist state and local authorities in times of state emergencies; to conduct homeland security and community service activities under the umbrella of Defense Support to Civil Authorities, and to augment the Texas Army National Guard and Texas Air National Guard as required.
The Texas Military Department is commanded by the Adjutant General of Texas, the state's senior military official appointed by the governor, and is comprised of the Office of State Administration (formerly the Office of the Executive Director), the Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG), the Texas Air National Guard (TXANG) and the Texas State Guard (TXSG).