Imagine living on a cruise ship at sea for months at a time.
But instead of an evening buffet with all-you-can-eat shrimp and baked Alaska, there’s a mess deck with roll-away benches seating about 5,000 people. You heap on the Texas Pete hot sauce to give your meal a little flavor.
Instead of a private cabin with an ocean view and in-room bottle service, your berthing accommodations consist of a fold-up rack of coffin-sized bunks stacked three-high.
And instead of elaborate and splashy production shows, your evening entertainment is an F-14 Tomcat screaming toward the deck of your ship, precisely snagging its tailhook on an arresting wire to land.
This is no luxury liner — you are aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, where you must always be prepared for the unexpected.
That was life for Nick Montez on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Just 18 years old when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, he was inspired to put his college schooling on hold to join the Navy.
After boot camp and intense medical training, Montez was deployed as a hospital corpsman. He spent seven months in the Persian Gulf as an aerospace medic, conducting physicals and health safety checks for flight crews and pilots, and providing emergency medical response for flight deck personnel.
“Working on the flight deck is organized chaos, especially at night,” Montez said. “There’s so much going on all the time and you have to stay alert. You have jets taking off just as others are coming in to land — and all of this happening in the confined space of a Navy ship’s flight deck.”
While Montez saw many terrible accidents while working the flight deck, he chooses to reflect on the positive memories. “I have many lifelong friends I met while in the military, and the camaraderie I experienced during my service helped me get through the hard times,” he said.
After five years of service, Montez left the Navy and returned to college to study business management.
In 2007, as the economy began to falter and eventually crash, Montez couldn’t find a job. His military medical skills didn’t translate to the private sector, and he lacked the civilian training and certifications required to be a paramedic. A career change was in order.
Having spent a summer working in Denver Water’s electrical shop prior to his enlistment, Montez returned to Denver Water to pursue a new career. He secured a job in building maintenance and shortly after moved into a trade helper position.
The teamwork and sense of community his co-workers offered made the transition from military life easier. “Finding work was really hard after I got out of the Navy, and I’m lucky Denver Water gave me an opportunity.”
Denver Water recognizes the difficultly veterans can have finding employment after leaving the service and explaining their job skills in a way that translates into the private sector, said Loren Robinson, a talent specialist for Denver Water. With more than 70 veterans currently on staff, Denver Water actively recruits qualified veterans for positions and supports them once they are employed.
“The military produces highly trained individuals in technology, water treatment, engineering, science and many other areas that are a great fit for many of Denver Water’s skilled positions,” said Robinson.
Denver Water’s Veteran’s Network offers support during the transition into the private sector and provides the camaraderie that many miss from their military environments, he added.
Now working as a maintenance mechanic, Montez is glad Denver Water gave him a chance nine years ago to show his skills and grow his career.
“The military helped me build many life skills and instilled work ethic, teamwork and dependability in me, which has served me well at Denver Water,” he said. “Those who serve truly make a sacrifice, and I think that’s something to be proud of.”
Reflecting on his own military experience, Montez urges others to honor veterans and those currently serving in the armed forces.
“This Veterans Day, consider what you were doing when you were 18 years old, and remember that many men and women — some very young — were on a battlefield, or out at sea, in a war, defending our country’s freedom.”