As a longtime Washington Redskins fan, Marine Capt. Michael D. Martino admired former cornerback Darrell Green, a player who lacked size but had the tenacity to always make the play.
The Fairfax resident showed similar determination, whether on the high school football field or in studying for his economics degree, said his older brother, Robert M. Martino.
"We used to call him the Flea. He was always one of the smallest guys on the field, but he always made up for it with his guts," Robert Martino said last night.
Michael Martino displayed that courage and dedication most fully, his relatives said, in his career as a Marine Corps helicopter pilot.
Martino and another Marine officer were killed Wednesday near Ramadi in Iraq when their AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter crashed as they flew a support mission, Department of Defense officials said yesterday.
The Defense Department said in a statement that the cause of the crash is under investigation. Associated Press Television News quoted an Iraqi as saying he saw insurgents shoot down the helicopter.
Martino, 32, was serving his second tour of duty in Iraq as a member of a light attack helicopter squadron out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.
As a teenager in Southern California, he would ride his bike to the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in search of pilots to talk to or planes to watch, family members said. He spent many weekends going to military air shows, where he would be the first to arrive and the last to leave.
"My son, from the day he was a little kid, he wanted to fly," said his father, Robert A. Martino. A Marine Corps career grew alongside that dream.
High school friend Scott Tarlo described a meticulous person who would spend months building a model airplane and hours talking about fixing car engines or wiping down "his baby," a Corvette. His sense of drive took him through junior college, university and summers in officer candidate school, Tarlo said.
"He was the epitome of the self-made person," Tarlo said. "He was definitely a scrapper and worked for everything he had."
His parents moved to Fairfax City about 13 years ago, and Michael Martino followed after graduating from the University of California at San Diego. The Washington area became his home, and he entered the Basic School at Quantico Marine Corps Base for officer training in 1993.
During his first tour, as the Marines pushed to rid Fallujah of insurgents in April 2004, Martino served not in the air, but on the ground as a forward air controller. He called in airstrikes on enemy positions, and his actions during that campaign earned him a Navy Commendation Medal. His family hopes the honor will be raised to a Bronze Star.
"This guy brought all hell down on the Iraqi insurgents. . . . He saved a lot of Marines, and he killed a lot of bad guys," said retired Lt. Col. Gary Lambertsen, a family friend.
Lambertsen knew Martino for only a couple of years, but he believed that the flight hours and combat experience he logged put Martino on a fast track to rise within the Marine Corps. "He saw just a tremendous amount of combat for someone of his age and his grade," Lambertsen said.
Martino is survived by his mother, father, brother and a sister and two nieces.
Martino was the second fatality from the Fairfax area in recent days. Last week, Pfc. Dillon Miles Jutras of Fairfax Station died during operations in Iraq's Anbar province.