UNTHSC celebrates veteran students for ‘a life of service’
By Diane Smith
Marine sniper and doctor don’t appear to be similar careers, but former U.S. Marine Sgt. Jonathan Sweeny sees two jobs that both serve to protect.
A sniper’s work includes keeping watch from distant, concealed positions over both military members and civilians. Sweeney, who served as a sniper, said he viewed this role as a guardian angel because his team was protecting those in his assigned area.
“The reason I joined the military was because I wanted to protect people,” Sweeney said. “When I got into the Marines, I was accepted into the scout sniper community. Everybody likes to think of snipers as assassins, but to be honest, most of what we do is reconnaissance and surveillance. We protect everyone.”
When Sweeney got out of the Marines in 2014, he returned with an interest in medicine inspired by training with military medics in trauma medicine. He changed his focus from business to pre-med and majored in biology.
Sweeney came to the UNT Health Science Center in 2018 after graduating from Dallas Baptist University. At UNTHSC, he studied in the Medical Science program and participated in research at the UNTHSC anatomy lab.
Sweeny is currently applying to medical schools, including the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Sweeney was among several veteran students from the UNT Health Science Center who were recognized at an August UNT System Board of Regents meeting. Veteran students were also recognized during a Veterans Day Breakfast that included praise from UNTHSC President Dr. Michael Williams.
“What does it really mean to live a life of service?” Dr. Williams said. “It’s about choosing to live your life not just for oneself but for a greater good.”
Dr. Williams said veteran students help build a strong campus community. There are about 60 students on campus who are either veterans or serving in the military reserves. UNTHSC was designated a Purple Heart University in 2017.
“Serving others first is our top core value,” Dr. Williams said.
Thousands of veterans rely on the Post 9-11 GI Bill for higher education. Health professions is the second highest degree field for veterans tapping into this federal assistance, according to the National Veteran Education Success Tracker.
The tracker, based on research provided by the Student Veterans of America, states that 37,138 veterans earned degrees in health professions since 2008.
Family military ties or the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States are often cited as reasons why people join the military. Sweeney is no different.
“It really hit me when 9-11 happened,” Sweeney said. “I was too young to do anything, but those events had a profound impact on my decision to enlist in the Marines.”
Sweeney was also inspired to join the U.S. Marines by his grandfather, who served in World War II as an artillery Marine on Iwo Jima.
Sweeney said his military training is an asset as he studies to become a doctor.
Medical students share many traits with people selected for military sniper training, Sweeney said.
“The big thing is they want to make sure that you, one, don’t quit,” Sweeney said. “Two, they want to make sure you can maintain your composure in a high stress environment. They really want to see teamwork.”
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