Life after seventeen years of military service is different than Jason Gomez expected. At 43, he’s found himself back in school at Colorado Mountain College Leadville — starting a new career of service.
Jason is a few classes away from earning an Environmental Science degree and will continue on the path towards a B.A. in Sustainable Studies from CMC. He’s also finished his Outdoor Recreation Leadership Associate degree this past spring. The ORL degree wasn’t necessarily part of the plan, but the experiences and skills he gained will help him accomplish his ultimate goal – a career with the United States Forest Service (USFS).
The Sustainable Studies bachelor’s degree wasn’t part of Jason’s initial plan either, but it is paving a direct pathway to employment. Thanks to a partnership between Colorado Mountain College and the U.S. Forest Service, Jason has already launched his USFS career with the Rocky Mountain Land Management Internship. Through the internship, Jason and seven other CMC students work part-time with the USFS while earning a degree in Sustainable Studies.
“CMC has been 100% supportive of my education,” says Jason, “They’ve helped me get my ORL degree and are helping me finish my Environmental Science degree. They know my goals and encouraged me to apply for this internship. The staff and faculty in Leadville have become my family.”
Be all you can be
Jason joined the military in 1997. He was following in the foot-steps of his father, an Army veteran, and his aunt, who served in the Air Force. He served a few years in the reserves, quickly making rank, and was activated after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“Be all you can be,” reflects Jason, “that campaign really stuck with me. I did everything I wanted to do in the military… airborne, artillery, rapid deployment units, infantry, and special forces.”
Jason has served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Germany. He’s learned to speak French, Arabic, and German, as well as English. Spanish was his first language.
In 2014, Jason retired from the military. He attended the Law Enforcement Academy, and soon realized he didn’t want to be a sheriff or a street cop. He began looking at alternative careers that would allow him to continue to serve his country. The Forest Service became a possibility.
“I needed an environmental science degree,” says Jason “and discovered Colorado Mountain College Leadville. I never went away to go to school, or lived on-campus. I thought, ‘why not?’ There will be less distractions and I can concentrate on school.”
‘I can relax in Leadville’
Like many other veterans, Jason was drawn to Leadville. He had traveled around the world with the military and wanted a break from big cities.
“In a big city, I’m always on my toes. I feel like I can relax in Leadville,” says Jason, “I’ve never had support from a community like this. I can trip, fall and I’m on the trail. We’re surrounded by three 14ers.”
At Colorado Mountain College Leadville, veterans have a unique support system. CMC also provides reduced tuition rates for veterans, active-duty military, and their family, as well as supportive resources specific to student vets.
“There are a lot of veterans here,” says Jason, “Veterans who work here, live here, study here, and teach here. They can relate to me. Coming to CMC Leadville has made me feel part of an extended family, and the only other time I’ve felt that way was in the military.”
Jason has carved out a meaningful and active life for himself in Leadville. He is the current President of the CMC Leadville Running Club, and an avid hiker and mountain biker. He’s also worked and volunteered for the Leadville 100 races, both as a CMC student and a U.S. Forest Service employee.
Boots on the Ground
The Rocky Mountain Land Management internship has helped Jason gain boots-on-the-ground experience with the U.S. Forest Service. He works side-by-side with CMC faculty and Forest Service rangers, while participating in intensive field-based learning.
He hopes his military experience combined with Outdoor Recreation Leadership, Environmental Science, and Sustainability Studies degrees will help him launch a new life.
“Through the internship program, I hope to gain all the experiences that will help me secure a full-time position,” says Jason, “We’re not guaranteed a job, but I will do everything I can, and go anywhere in the country to serve the U.S. Forest Service.”