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J.R. Martinez talks to OnTheRedCarpet.com after the Dancing With The Stars season 13 finale on Tuesday, November 22 / Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a file photo from the official website of the U.S. Department of Defense. - Provided courtesy of ABC / defense.gov

J.R. Martinez receives letter from Secretary of Defense on 'Dancing With The Stars' win

11/27/2011 by Kristina Lopez

The mirror ball trophy isn't the only prize J.R. Martinez received after winning "Dancing With The Stars" on Tuesday, November 22.

The former "All My Children" actor and Iraq War veteran was praised by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a letter and a phone call to the ballroom champ on Friday, November 25. Panetta also invited Martinez to meet him at the Pentagon, according to the Associated Press.

Panetta told Martinez in a 10-minute phone call that he demonstrated the strength and resilience of wounded veterans, Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby said.

"Over the course of this competition, your spirit captivated the nation and your victory sends a powerful message about the strength and resilience of our wounded warriors," Panetta reportedly said. "In the eight years since your injury ... you have done extraordinary work assisting other wounded warriors and raising public awareness of the challenges our service members and their families face when they return home, and I would like to commend you for your tireless efforts in this arena."

The Louisiana native, whose full first name is Jose Rene, was deployed to fight with U.S. forces in Iraq in 2003 and suffered burns to more than 40 percent of his body after a Humvee he was driving hit roadside bomb. He has undergone more than 30 surgeries to repair the damage, including on his face and legs. Martinez became a motivational speaker and in 2008, began acting in "All My Children."

Details of Panetta's meeting with Martinez are still being worked out, according to the wire service.

Martinez and his partner Karina Smirnoff beat out "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" star Rob Kardashian and talk show host Ricki Lake to win the top honors on the dancing competition show. It was also the first win for pro Smirnoff.

"It's crazy - I said to my mom last night, I was like, regardless of what happens - but still, to think eight and a half years ago, she was helping, teaching me how to walk and now I've been learning how to dance for the past 10 weeks," Martinez told OnTheRedCarpet.com after the show on November 22. I mean, it's amazing, the journey. It just shows that life is crazy, but you can make it, man."

Check out our "Dancing With The Stars" season 13 finale photo gallery and a recap of Monday night's performances, as well as video interviews with the cast backstage.

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