WASHINGTON - US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta phoned Iraq War vet J.R. Martinez to congratulate him on his "Dancing With the Stars" win earlier this week and called him a "testament of the strength and resilience of our wounded warriors," a Pentagon spokesman said Friday.
Martinez, 28, suffered severe burns over 40 percent of his body in 2003 when his Humvee hit a landmine while he was serving as an Army infantryman in Iraq.
After nearly three years of treatment, including major foot surgery and 33 cosmetic and skin graft surgeries, Martinez went on to become a motivational speaker and acted in the ABC soap opera "All My Children."
On Tuesday night, he was crowned the new champion of "Dancing With the Stars," along with his professional partner Karina Smirnoff.
Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby said Panetta spoke with Martinez for 10 minutes and invited him to the Pentagon for a personal get together.
Kirby added that Martinez "credited his military training and experience for his performance on -- and his ability to prepare for -- the show and reaffirmed his pride at having once served in uniform."
Martinez's next big role is scheduled for Jan.2 when he will serve as grand marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif.