Nearly 500 veterans who work for UCHealth joined the military for different reasons — a family tradition, a response to 9/11, a desire to be part of history – and now they wear a different uniform, continuing to put their personal needs aside to help the greater good.
“Our veterans have served our country unselfishly and we thank and salute them for their braveness and personal sacrifices they have made. They bring outstanding skills, knowledge and unique perspectives to UCHealth and are valued team members,” said Marilyn Schock, chief operating officer for UCHealth Northern Colorado (Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center of the Rockies).
The men and women who served the country all have a unique story. As a way to honor the men and women who have served, UCHealth has captured a few of their stories.
My time in history
Army Capt. Jake Mentele (2008-14), a West Point graduate and now administrative fellow at UCHealth Northern Colorado, served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a gun truck platoon leader and later, helping the Afghan Army transition to health care independency as part of a security force assistance team.
“In Afghanistan, we were teaching everything from beans to bullets, but the Afghans weren’t taught about how to be self-reliant when it came to health care,” Mentele said. “We had the skills, and they needed the training.”
As a high school graduate from South Dakota, Mentele said he was attracted to the prestigious reputation of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and he had always had a sense of patriotism. It’s about “being part of something larger than myself and bettering the world,” he said. “I felt it was my time in history. Going back to the Revolution where we gained our independence, to current national threats, the military is a representation of the country I love and am proud to support.”
The turning point in Mentele’s military career was when he entered into health care.
“Afghan and U.S. medical personnel partnered together to create an Afghan medical clinic in a combat zone,” he said. “We trained [the Afghan National Army soldiers] in casualty tracking systems, medical evacuation processes, first aid and life-saving techniques. … I knew my efforts could save a life or improve a life, so when I got out [of the military], I kept thinking about that experience, and its powerful impact, and decided that’s what I wanted to do back home.”
A different use
Unlike Mentele, the military didn’t bring Joe Jacaruso into health care — health care brought Jacaruso to the Air Force Reserves.
“I have always been interested in serving, but once I became a nurse, I decided to put those skills and education to use in the military,” he said.
At UCHealth Metro Denver (University of Colorado Hospital), Jacaruso is a registered nurse working in the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit, but in the Reserves, he’s a second lieutenant flight nurse with the 34th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron out of Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. He is preparing for his first deployment.
“I’m looking forward to using my nursing skills in the air — flying above the action and caring for the wounded warriors out there,” he said. “Those are the heroes, and I thought it
would be an amazing opportunity to care for those men and women.”
From citizen to soldier
Edgar Fuentes was 15 years old when he immigrated to the United States from Mexico with his family. Later, he had just moved to Fort Collins and married his wife when 9/11 occurred — a tragedy that compelled him to enlist.
His first deployment was during the initial push by the U.S. in 2002, and he spent about four months traveling among cities, including Baghdad, as a motor transport operator with the 3rd Cavalry Unit out of Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. His duties also included being a prisoner guard.
“I lost good friends over there,” he said as he stared at a bracelet on his wrist that reads: Jeremy Dale Vrooman 7/18/08. “Veterans Day is not about me but about those guys and their families. I’d wish we’d do more for them.”
That kindhearted nature has been put to good use now as Fuentes follows his new career path in service: a patient care technician in the surgical unit at Poudre Valley Hospital. “I really like helping people,” he said.
All in the family
Military service has always been a big part of Teresa Taylor’s life. Her father retired from the military while Taylor was joining ROTC and becoming a nurse in the Air Force. She even married an Air Force pilot.
After 24 years of service in the Air Force Nursing Corps, Taylor retired in 2004 as a lieutenant colonel. She had been an OB nurse, and had gotten her master’s in nursing administration and education. The military provided her the opportunities and experience she needed to build a career, she said, and added, “It coaches and mentors you to become a leader.”
For the past nine years, she has been director of clinical education for UCHealth Colorado Springs (Memorial Hospital).
“I loved being in the military,” she said. “It’s that whole sense of camaraderie and taking care of your servicemen — it’s that sense of family. That’s why UCHealth has been a good fit for me. It has that same sense of community, and it takes good care of that community.”