Major success for a ‘Hanna boy’
LT. Col. NOMA Martini graduated from Sonoma Valley High School in 1996.
Tim Norman/Special to the Index-Tribune
Sonoma Valley High School graduate Noma Martini (’91) was promoted from major to lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army last month, attaining a level in the military that hundreds of thousands of enlisted men and women can only dream of. The story of his life at Hanna Boys Center, his time at SVHS and the years since his graduation in 1996, is a truly inspiring one for all students.
I recently sat down with Martini for a conversation about his life:
How did you come to live at Hanna?
I was faced with either remaining in a broken and dysfunctional home in Oakland or trying out Hanna. There wasn’t much of a future for me in Oakland, so Hanna was the best and safer of the two options. Going there wasn’t something that I ever admitted to liking, but is something that I needed and, over the course of time, appreciated.
What did you get out of your time at Sonoma Valley High School?
Hanna gave me the option of either attending Justin Siena or Sonoma Valley High School. At the time, SVHS was the more ethnically diverse school, having two other black students, whereas Justin only had one. I already had negative experiences being the only person of color in a school and I felt that I would have a greater chance of fitting in at SVHS.
It was as close to a normal high school time as I could have imagined, despite the fact I was living in a group home with a group of four staff members as surrogate parents. I did have an AP English teacher discourage me from going to college at Berkeley because she felt I wouldn’t survive, and a couple of parents who refused to let me date their daughters solely based on my ethnicity, but I moved past those issues.
Because there was an initial mystery to Hanna Boys within the community, I tried my best to dispel the reputation and redefine the image. I gladly told people that I was a Hanna boy. Senior year, I was elected vice-president of my class.
When did you first realize that you wanted to pursue a career in the military?
Although I did not always like the strict rules at Hanna, I was drawn to structure and discipline. HBC encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do. Because HBC paid for the application fees, I applied to every school that I thought I would be interested in, including the military academies and several state schools. I chose to forgo an offer from West Point to start at their prep school and instead accepted an offer from U.C. Berkeley. I enrolled in Army ROTC once I got there. The Army had the most helicopters, and I decided I wanted to be a pilot.
In what ways has your life in the military surprised you?
Looking back as a young black male, from a broken home, being raised in Oakland, I would never have thought it possible to graduate college, go to flight school, be responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment and the lives, welfare and discipline of hundreds of soldiers. Statistically, I should be dead or in jail like most of my childhood friends. Hanna set the foundation for me to be successful in the military. With role models like Colin Powell, the military always represented a means of mobility from where I was to where I wanted to be.
What advice would you give to students today, who are trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives?
Do something that you are passionate about, that you can get behind with your heart and soul. Never settle for “no.” Find or make a way for you to realize your dream. Never get so attached to your career that you lose who you are. Look back every now and then to remember your humble start and don’t forget those who helped you along the way.
What is your life like today?
I am still serving active duty Army, and am currently assigned as the Department Head and the professor of Military Science at the University of Florida. I will likely hold this position for another two years until I receive orders to assume a battalion command. My last deployment to Iraq was stressful and I know that I came home a different person. Working with the cadets right now is great. My patience threshold is restored and I genuinely feel that I have an opportunity to shape the Army’s leaders of tomorrow.
My near-term goal is to have a successful battalion command (300 soldiers, 30 aircraft). My long-term goal is to make full colonel and set the conditions for a brigade command (1,000-plus soldiers, 120 aircraft). My personal goals are to be a good husband to my wife, Manda, a good father to my two girls and to be a good provider. I want people to know me for achieving my personal goals not my professional accomplishments when I am dead. The professional accomplishments are contingent on too many variables that I cannot control, whereas my personal goals are things that I can control and affect.
At a promotion ceremony on Nov. 2, Hanna Boys’ Boys Center executive director the Rev. John Crews, captain USN retired, read the oath of office to Lt. Col. Noma Martini.
PHOTO: Tim Norman / Special to the Index-Tribune