Nursing a Career in Combat

By Michael Schiavetta (M.A. '07)

In 2006, NYIT student Jason Rodriguez (B.S. ’08) stood in front of his classmates and announced, “Next semester, when you are finishing your senior year, I will be deployed to Iraq. I just wanted to say goodbye and hope we stay in touch.”

Some of his classmates cried as the U.S. Navy reservist exchanged handshakes and hugs, bidding them farewell until his return. As the unofficial spokesman of his class (or “designated big mouth” as he puts it), Jason and his friendly smile would be missed by the teachers and students of NYIT’s nursing program.

But for Jason, it was a necessary call to duty. Originally an Air Force reservist, he transferred to the Navy in 2004 and knew it was only a matter of time before he would be called upon to serve his country. In January 2006, he was shipped to Iraq attached to the Third Civil Affairs Group.

“My first tour was an eye-opener,” says Jason. “I can recall several times at night sleeping in tents and waking up to the sound of enemy fire, then watching tracers fire over our tent. I’d roll off my cot, grab my gear and a weapon, and see if the enemy was out there.”

Once, while patrolling the streets of Ar Rutbah in western Iraq, an improvised explosive device struck his vehicle. There were no deaths, although “a couple people were injured, and I had to go through tests to check for memory loss.” His actions earned him the Combat Action Ribbon.

Jason returned to the United States and his NYIT studies in late 2006. The Bronx, N.Y., native had no problems re-acclimating himself, having studied on his own while in the Middle East. “I’d been studying nursing for so long that it wasn’t difficult to refocus.”

And, in May 2008, Jason finally earned his NYIT Bachelor of Science in Nursing … only to be called back into active service 12 days later. He took his nursing certification exam three months later during a month-long military training exercise called the “Mojave Viper” in the Western United States. Jason’s medical unit learned how to deal with different combat situations, including firefights and bombings, as well as transporting casualties and setting up triages, while he studied every chance he got. “I was a mess and took the day off to take the exam,” he says.

Jason passed, of course, and left for Iraq again one week later, this time with the Second Battalion, 25th Marines Regiment. His second tour was “less stressful,” despite being deployed to the same region. While there, he used his nursing skills to treat Iraqi soldiers who were injured during a Thanksgiving firefight with local insurgents. Jason returned home safely in April 2009. 

He attributes much of his success—on the battlefield and off—to his NYIT education and the multicultural focus of the nursing program. “My classes took into account the way you deal with patients based on their ethnic background, including foods, religious beliefs, and health issues related to those groups,” says Jason. “It’s not just about what you see on the paper or charts … it’s much more personal.” His experiences during hospital rotations and community-based activities—where he could see ethnic environments and their effect on people’s lives—have helped him whenever he treats patients.

As for the future, Jason is considering a few career paths. He contemplates returning to duty again in 2010 so the Navy can “put me somewhere where I can be useful.” His other goal is to pursue a career in emergency medicine, where his military experiences treating injured Marines will be a tremendous asset in dealing with situations that require quick thinking.

“I love the fast pace, the rush.”

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Winter 2010 Table of Contents