Leon Panetta praises the DWTS champ in a letter and phone call

By Aaron Parsley
November 27, 2011 11:20 AM
Credit: WireImage; Abaca

Dancing with the Stars winner J.R. Martinez has fans in high places.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta wrote a letter to the Iraq war veteran and called him up to offer his congratulations for winning the mirror-ball trophy in last week’s finale, according to the Department of Defense.

In his letter, Panetta praised the former Army infantryman, who suffered severe burns when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq in 2003.

“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,” he said.

Panetta also made a phone call to Martinez on Friday and said he admired how much effort the show’s performers put into each routine, according to Department of Defense spokesman Cap. John Kirby.

Martinez said he is proud to have served in uniform and credited his military training and experience for his ability to prepare for the show, Kirby added.

During the 10-minute call, Panetta also invited Martinez to the Pentagon. Plans are now in the works to arrange a meeting in the very near future, Kirby said.

Another Pentagon spokesman, Douglas Wilson, reportedly said that Martinez’s victory with Karina Smirnoff has recently been “the talk of the troops.”