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The Mountaineer Online

Musical to medical: Soldier prepares for transition to civilian career

Sgt. 1st Class Audrey Gomez pauses while on duty at the North Pole Fire Department, where she volunteers as a scene support provider. (Courtesy Photo)
Sgt. 1st Class Audrey Gomez pauses while on duty at the North Pole Fire Department, where she volunteers as a scene support provider. (Courtesy Photo)

Melody Everly

Staff Writer

Sgt. 1st Class Audrey Gomez wears many hats. A wife, mother of two and a member of the 10th Mountain Division Band, Gomez spends a great deal of time planning her day to ensure that she can fit in time for everything – practicing her clarinet, scheduling and coordinating band events and shuttling her 9-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son to baseball practice.
To top it all off, Gomez is also taking college courses in preparation for separating from the military and moving on to her next big challenge: pursuing a career as a physician’s assistant.
Gomez grew up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh. Her father, a physician, and her mother, a certified public accountant, encouraged each of their five children to become involved in the fine arts.
“When I was in second grade, my parents enrolled me and said ‘Hey, you’re taking piano lessons,’” she said. “My siblings had all taken them as well.”
Gomez progressed quickly in her piano playing. In fifth grade, students were asked if they were interested in playing an instrument in the school band.
“I really wanted to play the French horn, but my parents knew that I would have to have braces,” she recalled. “They said to try something else – I think clarinet was actually my third choice.”
Although it wasn’t her favorite instrument initially, Gomez showed an aptitude for playing the clarinet. Over the next few years, she played in honors bands and participated in several musical competitions in her local area.
In eighth grade, a friend told Gomez that she wanted to play clarinet rather than tenor saxophone. Wanting to challenge herself, Gomez also made the switch. She quickly learned how to play the tenor sax, but she grew frustrated with the weight of the instrument on her neck.
“So, I asked the director if I could play something different,” she said.
The director informed Gomez that he needed to think of the overall tone of the band, and he explained that certain instruments supply a certain “voice” that the ensemble needs. The only other instrument that supplied the necessary voice was the trombone.
“I switched to the trombone, really knowing nothing about playing that type of instrument,” Gomez said. “I went home and played notes on my piano, then sounded them out on the trombone.”
Learning to play the trombone was more challenging than she had imagined it would be.
“You have to learn all the positions you are using and also the level (octave) that you need to play in,” she said. “I continued practicing the trombone, while simultaneously playing the clarinet in (concert) band.”
She plugged away, and soon she had learned all of the pieces that she needed to play in order to participate in her school’s marching band. The following fall, Gomez decided to audition for honors band, this time as a trombone player.
“I got into honors band playing trombone,” she said. “They also needed trombone players for jazz band, and so they said ‘OK, you’re going to play trombone.’ It was much different from the marching band, but I knew I’d be able to do it.”
During her senior year of high school, Gomez auditioned on clarinet and was accepted to Pennsylvania State University as a music education major.
“I got there in the fall and really wanted to be in the marching band,” she said. “Even though I auditioned on clarinet, I told them ‘I want to play trombone in the marching band.’”
There were only four slots open within the marching band that year. She auditioned, and one of the former trombone players was moved to piccolo to make room for Gomez to play trombone in the marching band.
While attending Penn State, Gomez learned to play nearly every musical instrument she could get her hands on.
“You aren’t required to know how to play them all, but I made sure I took the time to learn,” she said.
In addition, she took vocal classes and private lessons, even though her chosen emphasis was instrumental music.
Gomez went on to earn her master’s degree in clarinet performance from Ohio State University. Upon graduating, she decided to enter the military.
“I watched my friends, and a couple of them were working odd jobs just to pay their bills,” she said. “Some of them have gone on to become college professors, but it took a really long time and it was something that I really didn’t want – to wait for that one (teaching) spot to finally open and hope to be the one selected.”
She also longed to see more of the world.
“In between my junior and senior year of college, I went to a program in a small town in Italy,” she said. “It was really neat. I had a purpose to be in Italy playing music for others, and the Italians were such a great audience.”
Gomez began looking into enlisting in the military.
“The Army was really the only branch that would allow you to go overseas right away,” she said.
So Gomez enlisted in the Army, completed basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and then attended the U.S. Army School of Music in Virginia Beach, Va.
“I was only there for about 10 weeks,” she said. “At that time, the school was a 26-week course. I was able to get in, test out of some of the classes and get an additional skill identifier. It basically signified that I knew how to play really well.”
Her first duty assignment was Mannheim, Germany. Although Gomez loved music a great deal, she began to think about her long-term career goals and how she might meet them.
“I’ve always wanted to help people,” she said. “My squad leader in Germany told me about the physician’s assistant program. I thought it was really interesting, and I already had all but four of the classes I would need.”
Gomez wanted to complete these four classes right away, but this proved to be difficult with the very busy schedule of events that the band helped to support.
“Our schedule is based on when ceremonies and events are planned,” she said. “You really can’t schedule courses that take place in a classroom, because there would be too many conflicts.”
A few years later, while Gomez was stationed at Fort Eustis, Va., a counselor suggested some local courses that she could take. She enrolled in courses at two community colleges in the area.
After completing a few courses, Gomez applied for the Army’s Inner Service Physician’s Assistant program. She was selected as an alternate and was informed that she would be added to a wait list.
“I decided to switch gears,” she said. “I took leave and went to Tidewater Community College, where they offered a month long (emergency medical technician) training course.”
She completed the course and became a nationally registered EMT. She also began shadowing a PA who worked on post, to gain more experience in medical treatment.
In 2012, Gomez received orders for a permanent-change-of-station move to Fort Drum. She, her husband and her two children moved and began settling into the North Country.
Different states have different requirements for EMTs, and Gomez was a little disappointed to find out that New York would require her to take another examination before being allowed to work in this capacity.
Gomez got involved with the North Pole Fire Department, working as a volunteer while she waited to take her examination.
“I work on an as-needed, on-call basis,” she said. “There’s an automated response system that notifies me on my cell phone.”
She has been able to assist in the area of scene support, helping out during fire emergencies.
“I don’t go inside a building during a fire, but I have helped out with a few,” she said. “My job is to watch for hot spots and to stand by to help the firefighters and (emergency medical services personnel) with anything that they might need. I can also provide first aid and (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) if needed.”
Gomez also began shadowing medical providers here at Fort Drum in preparation to re-apply for the Inner-Service PA program.
“I worked with Maj. Karen Fish and shadowed her – probably over 100 hours.”
Fish said that Gomez is a driven individual who possesses a great deal of skill and knowledge in the medical field and all of the qualities that make a great provider.
“She never ceases to amaze me with her maturity, leadership ability and medical skills,” Fish said. “Sgt. 1st Class Gomez will excel at any career she chooses.”
Fitting in the time to shadow was not easy. Gomez serves as her battalion’s Sexual Harassment / Assault Reporting and Prevention victim advocate. She is also a team leader for the 10th Mountain Division (LI) ceremonial band group, and she serves as an enlisted conductor for special ceremonies and events. She also plays saxophone for the popular 10 Degrees Brass Band, as some of their key members are currently deployed.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Wood, commander of the 10th Mountain Division Band, said that in addition to being a very talented musician, Gomez provides excellent leadership and mentorship for her fellow band mates.
“There are times when the stack of requirements for my first sergeant and I preclude us from being in front of (the band) on every mission,” he said. “It is fantastic having noncommissioned officers like Sgt. 1st Class Gomez who are willing to step into that role, lead their Soldiers and make sure our unit is successful.”
In addition to her conducting duties and practicing to remain proficient in playing the clarinet, Gomez also helps with administrative duties for the band. Band members must coordinate with requestors, handling all of their own scheduling for ceremonies and events. They also must find time to practice marching and formations for outdoor ceremonies.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to fit it all in,” she said. “There’s a bit of a juggling aspect to it getting to a place where things work.”
Wood says that Gomez does a great job of balancing it all.
“Somehow she stays on top of SHARP, unit (administrative duties), taking care of and leading Soldiers, being a great musician and, not least of all, being a mom,” he said.
Gomez credits her husband, Joe, a Reservist with the 674th Engineer Detachment, with helping her to find the time for it all, while still taking care of her Family.
Gomez also recently re-applied for the Inner-Service Physician’s Assistant program, and she was once again added to a wait list.
To achieve her goal of being able to help educate others on how to care for themselves, she has decided to separate from the military.
“Rather than waiting, when I found out I was an alternate again, I started taking classes. There are some courses that I didn’t have for the Inner-Service program that I would need in order to become a civilian physician’s assistant.”
Gomez recently received notification that she passed her New York State EMT certification examination. She looks forward to honing her skills as she continues to support the North Pole Fire Department, now in a greater capacity.
Although Gomez will leave active-duty service in January, she says it is important to her to remain involved with supporting the military. She plans to join the National Guard, while pursuing her dream of being able to help care for and educate others as a physician’s assistant.
“I enjoy working with people and I want to be able to help others,” she said.
“It’s something I grew up around. I guess I always had an interest. I just didn’t recognize it until later.”

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