Martin "Marty" R. Steele was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 15, 1946, and grew up in Fayetteville, Washington County, Arkansas.
He earned a B.A. in history from the University of Arkansas. Steele later earned master's degrees in public administration, international relations, and international security affairs.
Steele enlisted as a Marine in 1965. During his thirty-five year career, he completed two tours in Vietnam and later served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Steele steadily rose up the military ranks, ultimately becoming a lieutenant general. Among the many honors Steele earned are the Defense Distinguished Service Medal; Defense Superior Service Medal; Legion of Merit; Navy Commendation Medal with gold star; and the Combat Action Ribbon. He served as the president and CEO of Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.