25 Years of Women at VMI

Martinez ’02:
The Confidence to Lead

Col. Angelica Martinez '02, Ph.D. leaning against a wall smiling

Angelica Martinez ’02 in the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Martinez, a U.S. Army colonel, is the chief of strategic plans for the U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority.—Photo by Michael Purcell.

VMI was the beginning of many things for U.S. Army Col. Angelica Martinez ’02, Ph.D. The seeds of varied work and career, which have taken her around the world, were planted in Scott Shipp Hall. Her belief that women can meet any standard came from her own experiences as an early female cadet, when shades on barracks room doors were one of the few visible changes.

Martinez’s career began in the Southwest U.S., where she attended the New Mexico Military Institute. VMI leadership recruited female students from NMMI to finish their degrees. A high school and junior military college, NMMI graduates are commissioned second lieutenants after two years but must complete their bachelor’s degrees at another institution.

Martinez was a 2nd Class cadet, a rat, and a second lieutenant—at the same time. Martinez explained that the only difference between her and rats who matriculated as first-year students was the level of classes she took. She took junior-level classes while completing the Rat Line. “There was no easy way out, no shortening of it,” Martinez remembered about her Rat Line.

“I think that that really informed me, later on, to say, ‘No, don’t lower standards for women. Have them meet the same standards, and we will.’ And that gave me a lot of confidence coming out of there to lead, to go to war, to deal with complex conflicts—like I do now.”

Martinez is currently serving her second tour in Israel. She gave the interview for this article from her office at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, where she serves as the chief of strategic plans for the U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (a 3-star level command).

“We coordinate with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to enhance security cooperation and to advise the Palestinian Authority on security sector reform,” she explained. “So, day-to-day we work with Israeli and Palestinian security forces to promote security, safety, and stability in the region.

“We routinely speak with security leaders on both sides and have unique access in that when things are escalating, when tensions rise, we try to facilitate communication and restore calm,” Martinez said. “It’s a very fulfilling job because you get to know incredibly talented leaders on both sides. It can also be challenging … rockets were flying last night, but it’s an incredible opportunity to work in the U.S. Embassy and to live in Jerusalem.”

The team is nearly 70 people; about one fourth are civilians, and the rest are military or police. It includes members from nine NATO nations who serve together under three general officers from the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom.

“I think that that really informed me, later on, to say, ‘No, don’t lower standards for women. Have them meet the same standards, and we will.’"

U.S. Army Col. Angelica Martinez ’02, Ph.D.

Martinez began her Army career as a transportation officer. Like most Army personnel in the early 2000s, she soon had several combat deployments. The young officer went to Kosovo and then to Iraq twice. She applied to and was accepted to teach at the U.S. Military Academy. She then completed a master’s degree at Tufts University in preparation to teach in the Department of Social Sciences.

“[I] absolutely loved it,” she said. “It was just incredible. It really, really changed my career, changed my life.”

At West Point, she learned that she loved teaching and was able to take cadets to several different continents and meet military leaders in other countries. Following her time at the USMA, she spent a year as an interagency fellow with the U.S. State Department. There, she volunteered for diverse assignments, including observing elections in Senegal and preventing violence in Central America.

Martinez then attended the Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies. She was slated for a tour in Afghanistan following her SAMS graduation, but troop levels in south central Asia were decreasing; instead, she went to Israel for the first time.

Following Israel, Martinez applied for and was accepted to an Army program to pursue a doctoral degree. She spent 18 months at George Mason University. Then, she went to Izmir, Turkey, working for NATO’s Allied Land Command from 2017–19. Around this time, the international community, including NATO, was giving serious thought to strategy regarding Russia.

U.S. strategy had been based on relatively small brigade-level elements through the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In considering Russia, experts believed larger units were required. Planners referenced World War II, Martinez said. “We really had to confront the possibility of large-scale conflict.” At one point, Martinez literally “drove the plan” of action in the case of a Russian incursion into the Baltics. She traveled through many eastern European countries and examined practical needs on the ground, including rail gauges and areas for vehicles to cross water obstacles.

After her time in Turkey, she was handpicked to serve as the executive officer for the USMA superintendent. She was part of the team that graduated and commissioned 1,000 cadets under the spring 2020 coronavirus restrictions. She was selected for the U.S. Army War College and finished her dissertation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When Army leadership reviewed doctoral work and matched officers’ topics with assignments, Martinez received her current assignment in Israel.

Today, she remains proud to call herself a VMI alum. The Institute, she says, “really teaches you and instills in you the confidence and ability to face challenges.”

Though she doesn’t have a specific timeline, when she does hang up her Army uniform for good, Martinez would like to find herself in a familiar, but still challenging environment: A classroom.

“I really do enjoy [teaching]. I think [it] is incredibly important and fulfilling,” she said.

  • Molly Rolon

    Molly Rolon Editorial Specialist