J.R. Colby
Thanks to the UNM School of Medicine's EMS academy, U.S. Marine veteran J.R. Colby is now serving Rio Rancho as a firefighter and paramedic.

J.R. Colby developed an intense interest in emergency medicine after taking a combat medic course while he was on active duty
as a U.S. Marine.

Colby, who had been an accounting student at New Mexico State University, enlisted shortly after 9/11 and went on to serve three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. After leaving the Marines in 2005 he completed the basic emergency medical technician course at the UNM School of Medicine’s EMS Academy and became a firefighter for the Rio Rancho Fire Department (RRFD).

“I missed the camaraderie – the brotherhood – I experienced in the service,” Colby says. “Seldom in life can you rely on people who say they ‘have your back.’ I found it in the Marines and again in the EMS Academy and RRFD.”

The academy not only trains EMTs and paramedics, but offers a number of other programs, including Austere and Mountain Medicine and Advanced Hazmat Life Support programs. “We ran more than 3,500 students through our numerous programs last year,” says Shelly McLaughlin, interim director of Rural Programs and Distance Education. “It’s quite a load, but an important one to a state whose population is spread so thin.”

McLaughlin is particularly proud of the military veterans and active duty men and women who come through the program. “These folks are special,” she says. “They have a strong sense of duty to their country, community and family. They also tend to perform well under pressure, utilizing their training and skills quickly and accurately – ideal traits for treating patients on the front line in a medical emergency.”

Colby, now a New Mexico- certified paramedic, feels he was well prepared for his integration into in civilian life, drawing from the military’s structure and organization. He is also an instructor for the EMS Academy and is pursuing his master’s degree.

“Paramedic school is extremely challenging,” he says, “but I wanted to advance my skills and help on a different kind of front line.”