Veteran Melvin Gomez ’19 Overcomes Afghanistan War Injuries and Thrives at John Jay

Veteran Melvin Gomez ’19 Overcomes Afghanistan War Injuries and Thrives at John Jay

Veteran Melvin Gomez ’19 Overcomes Afghanistan War Injuries and Thrives at John Jay

During President Karol V. Mason’s 2019 commencement speech, she highlighted the stories of three graduating seniors who the crowd could easily identify with—a Dreamer, a future law school student, and an inspiring veteran. That veteran was deployed to Afghanistan five times. In Afghanistan, he suffered a traumatic brain injury, a back injury, and a neck injury, but as Mason said during her speech, none of this stopped him from earning his degree with a 3.8 G.P.A. “And, he’s not done yet,” Mason announced to a cheering crowd. He’s back at John Jay getting his M.P.A.” We sat down with retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Melvin Gomez, who is also a SUNY Binghamton and Bronx Community College graduate, to learn more about his service, his journey, and his dreams.  

“In Afghanistan, I had to deal with everything from writing reports and handling equipment worth billions of dollars, to dealing with casualties, reacting to enemy combat fire, and protecting the base.” —Melvin Gomez

What drew you to the military?
I was actually an intern for American Express during the summer of 2001, working at One World Financial Center, which was across the street from the World Trade Center. On September 11, I was supposed to pick up my last check from American Express, but it was my mom’s birthday, so I didn’t go. That summer impacted me greatly. I actually knew people that worked in those towers. The event drew me toward the military, and I joined in 2003. I was enlisted at first. Then I graduated from SUNY Binghamton and was Cornell ROTC commissioned in May 2007. I was deployed as soon as I finished a basic officer leadership course.

What was a regular day like for you in Afghanistan?
Many times I’d be facing 20-hour work days, seven days a week. In Afghanistan, I had to deal with everything from writing reports and handling equipment worth billions of dollars, to dealing with casualties, reacting to enemy combat fire, and protecting the base. I was doing anything that was needed, shooting, patrolling, and working with multiple police agencies.

“There was an explosion and I rolled down a hill and hit my head. That gave me a traumatic brain injury, a back injury, and a neck injury as well.” —Melvin Gomez

You were injured in Afghanistan. Can you tell us a little bit about what happened?
Basically, there was an explosion and I rolled down a hill and hit my head. That gave me a traumatic brain injury, a back injury, and a neck injury as well. Some veterans have long-term wounds that are not visible, but they are there. Like for me, I have to wear sunglasses because I get a lot of headaches, especially migraines, because of my injury. I actually did a year in the military overseas before I was diagnosed, and then I was put in a medical unit. I was hospitalized from 2012 until 2016. I officially retired in 2017 as a Lieutenant promotable.  

“The Office of Accessibility Services really helped me a lot. They provided me with special parking. They let my professors know that I couldn’t sit for long periods of time because of my back injury. They made sure I had enough time to take exams and a quiet place to do my work.” —Melvin Gomez

When you first enrolled at John Jay, what was the experience like for you?
The Office of Accessibility Services here at John Jay really helped me a lot. They provided me with special parking. They let my professors know that I couldn’t sit for long periods of time because of my back injury. They made sure I had enough time to take exams and a quiet place to do my work. It was hard because my migraines can be pretty debilitating and light is a trigger. But, I took a full workload of credits each semester. Sometimes I’d spend 12 hours at John Jay taking morning and evening classes. I had to relearn how to write and basically unlearn military style writing. I had to get used to mass transportation again and get used to crowds. I had to readjust to what college life was like.

One of the best experiences was seeing a lot of diversity here at the College; it wasn’t like that at SUNY Binghamton. The people at John Jay are diverse in so many ways. I’d be in classes with 18-year-olds right out of high school, 50-year-olds getting their degrees, people with disabilities, people without disabilities, people with work experience, people without work experience, people with children, and people without children. The diversity was a good shock for me.

You just graduated with a B.S. in Criminal Justice and you’re working toward getting your M.P.A. here at John Jay. What are your hopes for the future?
I hope to continue serving. I believe that giving back to the community is the most important thing a person can do. I was born in the Dominican Republic, so I’m an immigrant. I had to become a U.S. citizen in order to become an officer. When I was overseas, seeing soldiers from 90 different countries taking citizenship classes, hoping to become American citizens, that was a very motivating thing for me to see. I see the same thing here at John Jay. Students who aren’t citizens yet, but their goal is to become an officer, and at the same time get their degree and their citizenship. That inspires me. It’s life changing and I want to help them in any way that I can. Whether they’re going into the military, the police department, the fire department, or emergency services, or any other government job that requires citizenship, they’re facing a whole other process on top of getting their education. They inspire me to continue my education here at John Jay.

“The John Jay Veterans Association is outstanding, it’s the reason why John Jay has the largest number of veterans in the CUNY system.” —Melvin Gomez

What would you want to tell people about the veterans here at John Jay?
They are as diverse as the school itself. The group is as diverse as New York City. There are people with different types of experiences—Army Special Forces, Marine Special Forces, cooks, and clerks—but everyone served, and that’s what’s important. It’s a varied group. It’s a large group, and there’s a lot of camaraderie. There are over 500 of us in John Jay. I also want to acknowledge the John Jay faculty and staff who are veterans and are members of our community as well. The veteran’s community is very expansive. The John Jay Veterans Association is outstanding; it’s the reason why John Jay has the largest number of veterans in the CUNY system. John Jay attracts veterans, and rightfully so. We have veterans who live in D.C., or live in Pennsylvania, and they commute to John Jay because this school is more accommodating to veterans. 

Could you finish this sentence for me? Without John Jay…
I’d be at home retired. John Jay has kept me going to further serve my country in whatever way I can.