The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks spurred Angie Martinelli to action. She quit her job, dropped out of college and enlisted in the Army as a combat medic.
"Somebody's got to keep our boys in the fight and keep them healthy," said Martinelli, a 28-year-old private from Knights Ferry.
Her medical training is put to the ultimate test as she treats those wounded in Iraq. She works long hours at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center near Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where injured troops arrive daily.
She sees some gruesome war injuries, but they don't faze her.
"I'm a rock. I can handle it. You have to be able to stomach the kind of wounds you see here so that you're able to support the guys who are hurt," Martinelli said during a telephone interview last week.
Staying calm, tough and efficient is nothing new for her.
"I was raised that way. I'm from a rodeo family, and I'm very independent," said Martinelli, who competed in high school, college and professional rodeo.
She graduated from Oakdale High School in 1992 and had been attending Modesto Junior College.
Martinelli and her three sisters -- Mickie, Megan and Tasha -- grew up on a 30-acre ranch with their parents, Bill and Kay Martinelli.
Her family members say the Army is lucky to have Martinelli and her medical skills.
"She's in the perfect spot," her sister, Megan Martinelli, assured. "Growing up, if something was hurt -- a dog or whatever -- she always was the one to take care of it. It's her calling."
It's also her passion.
Angie Martinelli said she regularly visits the military hospital on her days off so she can help the wounded in ways that she doesn't have time for during her regular shifts.
She rolls those in wheelchairs to visit their buddies in other wards. Sometimes she takes them on field trips, like to karaoke night at the base lounge. And she runs to the store for them to meet their cravings for soda, candy, cigarettes and "chew."
"They're all in good spirits," Martinelli said of the wounded. "They're getting excellent care here, above and beyond."
She said the biggest complaint she hears is: "They feel guilty about getting wounded. They all want to get back to their units."
While they rest in warm beds and eat three hot meals a day, she said, they know their comrades still are fighting in the desert.
Many of them will recover enough to be sent "down range," which Martinelli said is Army lingo for the front line.
She'd like to join them there.
"If I could get into the action, I'd love it. I'm trained and ready, plus I'd get to carry an M16," said Martinelli, who learned to shoot on her family's ranch. She said she's a good marksman: "I could take out some Iraqis."
'She's living an adventure'
Her parents have no doubts about her commitment.
"She'd go to Iraq in a minute," said her father, an Army veteran. "I'm just as proud as I can be of her. She's living an adventure."
Her mother is a school bus driver, and the children she sees every day are doing their part to help in the war effort. Martinelli takes their messages and stuffs them into packages that she sends to her daughter.
"The kids give me artwork and letters, and they sign cards for the soldiers. I send them to Angie, and she puts them on her patients' breakfast trays," Martinelli said.
The get-well-soon messages from home help the wounded know they're remembered, especially since they don't get many visitors.
Military hospital visitors, in fact, must have the right clearances.
Martinelli said her daughter recently confronted and stopped a man who tried to get in without proper identification. The Army private later discovered the man was a high-ranking military officer who was out of uniform.
When the officer came back -- with proper ID -- the next day, he presented Martinelli with a special commendation medal for her diligent security efforts.
Such on-the-spot awards are pretty rare and something to be proud of, said Maj. Daniel Williams, a Army public affairs officer.
"She's a real spirit-filled girl," her mother said.
Angie Martinelli is spiritual, as well, and she has this request for the folks back home: "Keep praying for our guys and girls over there, and don't forget about the ones in Afghanistan, because they're still fighting and getting wounded, too."
She said Americans also should have faith that their country will prevail.
"I get to hear all sorts of stuff -- stuff I can't tell you -- about what's happening there," Martinelli said. "Believe me Saddam's in big trouble."
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at 578-2196 or email@example.com.