The fictional town of Pine Valley gets a dose of realism when a real-life war veteran takes the stage on the popular daytime soap opera "All My Children" to try and bring accuracy to an Iraq-related story line.
The show put out a nationwide casting call to find one special Iraq War vet for a recurring role on the show. Now, 25-year-old J.R. Martinez tackles a role that is perhaps all too familiar.
"For me to portray this role as Brot on the show, I think it's easy, because I can just take myself back to a place when it was painful, when I did want to be with someone, but I felt that it was better for them to move on with their life and not be a part of mine because of my appearance," he said.
On the show, Martinez portrays a veteran who decides to pretend he died in Iraq because he doesn't want to come back to his girlfriend.
In reality, Martinez was just 19 years old and three-and-a-half weeks into his tour in Iraq when the Humvee in which he was riding drove over an IED. The explosion trapped him and flames engulfed him.
"I remember screaming and yelling and asking someone, 'Please, please get -- just get me out of this vehicle, please.' And it felt like no one could hear me," Martinez said. "I remember this one guy coming to me and -- and literally rocking me, picking up my head and -- and rocking me and looking down and saying, 'You're gonna be OK. Don't worry. You'll be fine, just hang in there.' And I would look up and -- I -- I didn't see that certainty in his face."
Martinez ended up with 40 percent of his body burned and had to undergo 32 surgeries. His recovery has taken years. But he said that, as difficult as that experience was, returning home might have been even harder.
"That's when the real war started for me. That's when the real war starts for veterans, when you come back," he said.
Martinez admitted he's not the same person he was before the blast.
"But that's good change, because now I'm happier," he said. "I've learned that when you look in the mirror -- you have to look beyond what you see. And that's the true beauty of a person. And that's what I've been able to slowly kind of tell America."
The "AMC" set is a departure for the former solider, but it's one he seems to enjoy, even as he serves as an inspiration for his fellow cast members.
"He's out there every day fighting for veterans' rights. And if I can kind of tag along a little bit and learn from him, I feel grateful for that," said "AMC" actress Beth Ehlers, who portrays an Iraq War veteran on the soap.
"He's a walking miracle. He's tremendous," said "AMC" actor Michael Knight, who plays Tad Martin.
Martinez said he sees his appearance on the soap as an opportunity to inform others about the challenges veterans face.
"To tell a story to daytime viewers that maybe they don't understand, maybe they're not aware of, and to represent hundreds and thousands of troops and their families that have been through so much in their life and they continue to struggle every single day, and for me to be able to do that, that's an honor," he said. "And that's, even though I -- I -- I'm not over in Iraq or Afghanistan, I serve here."