By John Peter Lombardo
I began my career in the Fire Service at an early age and as a result felt a swell of wanderlust. It was on a particularly boring day in 2007 where I indulged a desire to join the military by scouring the internet for prospects in the varying service branches. Given my background in the Emergency Medical Services community as an EMT and subsequently a Firefighter Paramedic, I was naturally drawn to combat medicine occupations. Specifically speaking, the 18D MOS or Special Forces Medic, was a particular enthrallment for me. Here was a job where you could be an operator and a medic! On top of that, they had reserve options through the National Guard. It was exactly what I wanted.
I immediately increased the research and found a recruiter. After understanding the selection process and the pipeline as well as the actual work requirements upon qualifying, I got overwhelmed. On the positive side, this was an opportunity to become an expert in my field and also a highly trained Soldier. There was a downside though, in the fact that it is a big commitment to dedicate one’s self to almost two years of training followed by a potentially rigorous deployment cycle. I hesitated, so the recruiter offered me to enlist as an infantryman to get an idea of what to expect. There was a heavy sign-on bonus and it sounded lucrative. I took him up on his offer and I regret that decision to this day.
Ultimately, I shipped to Benning and began my career learning how to be a grunt. Infantry training was a transformational experience for me and revealed some serious weaknesses and flaws. I came out of it with a new appreciation for fitness and the importance of maintaining it. I had never been a serious athlete in high school, so the rigors of combat training were definitely an eye opener to me. This is where I began to understand the grind and furthermore to enjoy the grind.
As I look back, I realized that I hesitated because I feared the potential failure. I also had no business in even attempting selection at the time, as I was not in the kind of physical or mental shape that I would have needed to thrive in an environment such as SFAS. I just hadn’t put in the work.
Years later, an opportunity had presented itself for me to go to the weekend tryout provided by the Guard unit in my state. I performed poorly and it further solidified my earlier suspicion that I hadn’t put forth the effort in training. The lesson was that you must always be ready to take on whatever comes your way and in my business a lot of that has to do with physical performance and grit. There are a lot of folks within both my civilian and military career who don’t understand hard work and the opportunities that they will never reach if they don’t prepare themselves to actually arrive.
The Army has been an overall positive and enriching experience for me. I deployed shortly after enlistment and was able to experience all the highs and lows and challenges that come along with a combat deployment. I went on to start a family, pursue my degree with my Post 9/11 benefits, and got into CrossFit. I also grew contemptuous of my toxic employer and moved on to another fire department where I currently hold the rank of lieutenant. My educational benefits opened up the door for me to attend OCS and become a commissioned officer in the Guard (still Infantry), something I never would have imagined. I am currently setting my sights on Ranger School and pursuing my master’s degree.
John is a Fire Lieutenant/Inspector in the Fire Prevention Division of my Fire Department and a First Lieutenant with the Massachusetts Army National Guard, more specifically a platoon leader in a rifle company. He’s been a firefighter since 2005 and a Soldier since 2007.