As he thinks about Veterans Day this year, U.S. Army veteran Johnathan Scott, a second-year student in UNLV’s School of Medicine, remembers that nine years ago he figured his chances of dying in a village in Afghanistan were better than good
My squad got separated from our platoon and we were pinned down near a mosque...we realized that the enemy was...on our flank firing on us like sitting ducks…one of our machine guns was malfunctioning so we just had mine...we had a rocket launcher with no rockets, no helicopter support, and only one machine gun (to go with small arms weaponry). I remember lying in the dirt trying to dig out some cover with my boots while returning fire...I was thinking to myself, “Man, if I die here my mom is going to be so upset.” I got down to my last drum (of ammunition) and my squad leader smacked me in the head, yelling, “Scotty, stop shooting — you’re almost out! We gotta let them come to us!” Then suddenly out of nowhere, like guardian angels, two helicopters showed up to support us and made it possible for us to rejoin our platoon.
As another Veterans Day rolls around, Scott says the Army changed his life. You might say he slowly transitioned to becoming a complete civilian. After he left active duty in 2013, he joined the Nevada Army National Guard, where he served part-time for four years as an infantry mortar section sergeant. He also valeted cars at the Mirage — and undertook undergraduate college work, first at the College of Southern Nevada and then UNLV, earning a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences in 2019.
The military taught me...no matter how miserable something is, as long as you don’t let it get you down, as long as you keep fighting, keep working hard, there’s nothing you can’t achieve. I got to be part of a team, working, and fighting alongside some of the best men I’ll ever know — who taught me that it’s OK to ask for help when you need it and how important it is to extend help to others who need it when you can. This ability...helped me to reach my personal and professional goals, such as attending medical school.
The 29-year-old Scott, whose mother immigrated here from Lima, Peru, in 1990, was born and raised in Southern Nevada. His mother constantly reminded him and his two younger sisters how fortunate they were to have been born here.
This city has given me and my family every opportunity I could ask for...A young Peruvian woman who didn’t speak English moved to this city and built a life with an American man who didn’t finish high school. They built their lives working hard at Circus Circus for three decades. They were able to raise three children who are all first-generation college students...I don’t believe any other city would have been able to offer my family this way of life.
Awarded the Combat Infantry Badge among his commendations, Scott says the American pride instilled in him by his mother (his father died of cancer in 2017) had a lot to do with his joining the Army after his 2009 graduation from Liberty High School in Henderson.
Growing up, I did not foresee myself practicing medicine...I romanticized the idea of leading men in combat. I was privileged to serve under exceptional leaders who instilled in me discipline, perseverance, and most important, dedication to duty. As a sergeant, I did my best to emulate these leadership principles and pass them on to my soldiers. I taught them not only the art of soldiering, but also how to lead, that it is their duty to take charge in absence of orders. I wish to bring these leadership attributes to medicine, to demonstrate to my patients that they are in the hands of a physician who is confident in his decisions he makes and dedicated to improving their health…in war, as in medicine, hesitation can mean the difference between life and death, which is why it is essential to arm myself with knowledge and experience...Like soldiers, physicians...stare into the eyes of death and are uniquely equipped with the ability to evade it.
It wasn’t until after Scott returned from war that he started taking academia seriously. First, he thought about anthropology, about “becoming another Indiana Jones.” But he came to realize what he really enjoyed were biology and other science classes. He also realized he needed more of a purpose in his life.
At that point for the first time in my life I had a 4.0...but wasn’t happy with my major. I kind of fell into that weird slump that many veterans experience seeking “purpose” and thought to myself what profession is there that people will always need, regardless of the state of the world, be it economic depression, or the end of the world as we know it...a physician will always be necessary and always be someone that people turn to for help, leadership, and expertise. This is what really got me interested in the profession…looking back on my military service the one guy that we were always counting on and that everyone loved in the platoon was the medic known to grunts by the name “Doc.”
Scott is grateful for the full-tuition scholarship he received from the Engelstad Foundation. “It has lifted a significant financial burden from me. I won’t have as much stress and financial worry.” He wants to give back to Las Vegas, perhaps practicing in obstetrics-gynecology because of the joy that can come from helping bring a new life into the world.
I love Las Vegas and the state of Nevada more than any place in the world. I want to start a family here, raise my future kids here, and eventually die here. I ain’t leaving.”
Scott says the often-daily adrenalin rush of combat in Afghanistan — he once stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device) that fortunately didn’t go off — can make a real impression on your psyche, particularly if you’re deployed several times to a war zone where it’s not uncommon to come under fire three times a day. He acknowledges veteran suicide is very real.
Just two weeks ago I spoke with a friend who was having a rough patch and was able to remind him that our military service is a part of us. It does not define us. We're veterans, yes, but so much more than that. We’re sons, brothers, fathers, husbands, medical students, police officers, firefighters...People are still counting on us and we have so much more to offer the world than our military experience.