“Be ready to reinvent yourself and try something new.” That is just some of the advice that Chris Martinez shares with students when he talks about his career.
Currently an instructor at City University of New York, he is a retired assistant special agent in charge for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and a former counterintelligence technician for the U.S. Army National Guard. However, his career path was something of an evolution.
Growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Martinez decided to join the U.S. Navy after high school. No one in his family had gone to college, and he had earned a good score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test, so that seemed like a logical step. He was stationed in San Diego and served as an air traffic controller.
Just before leaving the U.S. Navy, Martinez landed a job with the U.S. Customs Service (USCS) as a detection systems specialist, intercepting airborne drug smugglers. He went to school at night and eventually obtained his college degree. That enabled him to attain the coveted special agent position with USCS. In this role, he led a variety of investigations, including those involving narcotics smuggling, human trafficking, fraud, and financial crimes. For this position, he had a variety of posts, traveling many miles from Miami, San Diego, and Washington, DC, to Colombia and Panama. Being bilingual was an asset.
During this time, he joined the Army Reserve and served as a warrant officer. His responsibilities included using analytical and investigative skills to detect and prevent acts of espionage, sabotage, and terrorism directed against Army activities. Following the attacks on September 11, 2001, Martinez was activated and served stateside in Maryland, Kansas, and California.
Shortly thereafter, all special agents in USCS, including Martinez, were transferred to the newly created U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He served as a regional attaché and advisor at the U.S. Embassy in Panama, working to enhance security and investigative benefits for DHS in seven Central American countries. Upon returning to the United States, he was assigned as a field officer in Newark, NJ, leading a division of criminal investigators, intelligence agents, and support personnel in conducting financial/money laundering, compliance, and asset identification investigations.
Along the way, Martinez began to consider what he would do next. He originally thought he might want to teach high school after retiring, but then a colleague suggested he consider teaching in college. He had earned a bachelor’s degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 1994, but he lacked a teaching degree. So he did an Internet search, found Saint Leo University, and decided to pursue a Master of Teaching degree, which he completed in 2008.
He started as an adjunct faculty member and discovered that he loved the classroom. “I had always liked teaching training courses, so it seemed natural to me,” he said.
Now, Martinez is an instructor at City University of New York, teaching classes in criminal justice, homeland security, intelligence, multicultural policing, financial investigations, and corrections. He also enjoys advising students on course selections and career choices.
Never one to slow down, Martinez is working toward his PhD in homeland security leadership and policy from Northcentral University and is currently writing his dissertation.
What does he tell his students—as well as his own five children—about their career paths? He preaches the three D’s. Have the desire—know what you want to do. Have the dedication—work hard. And have the determination—keep going and keep applying yourself. “Be open to move for opportunities. Never hesitate to tell people what you are looking for. And remember to volunteer—it’s a great way to get face time, learn new skills, and give back.”