Just 10 days after graduating from high school, Albert “Bert” Jimenez was in a grueling U.S. Marines boot camp in San Diego. Three weeks after that, he found himself in Iraq at the age of 18.
Four years later and two deployments to Iraq, Bert left the Marines with a heavy toll. PTSD and the trauma of seeing close friends die in a war zone impacted his mental and physical health. He didn’t know how to pick up his life after the Marines and turned to heavy drinking.
While all the mental demons are not totally gone, Bert has found a new life through exercise, attending Northwest Vista College, and slowly dropping about 115 pounds. This past fall, Bert completed the Boston Marathon with a group of other veterans and is also on course to earn his associate degree from NVC after this summer.
He said Vista was his first shot at college and he wasn’t sure if he could handle it.
“For me, it’s still kind of scary because I don’t do too well with crowds, but college has helped me to be a better person and get me out of my comfort zone,” Bert said.
Now, he wants to help other veterans through psychology. He has been accepted to UTSA this fall and he hopes to get a bachelor’s and master’s degree to work in a clinical setting to counsel veterans.
He says often times it’s hard to relate to psychologists or counselors because while they may be book smart, they don’t have that experience of watching a friend die in a foreign country or the aftermath that veterans face after being deployed multiple times. He believes he can bring that missing element to help counsel veterans.
In fact, Bert is getting his psychology field experience now through the San Antonio chapter of 22 Until None, which has the mission of ending suicide among veterans. The group’s website says 8,030 veterans commit suicide a year; and after military service, the chances of veterans committing suicide goes up 200 percent. Even worse, 1 in 5 suicide deaths are veterans, according to the site.
Bert says it’s not uncommon for him to get phone calls from veterans daily or even at 3 am because a former soldier needs help in order to make it to the next day.
Along with 22 Until None, Bert is also a fitness coach with Rise Above Hardship, which is a local nonprofit started by fellow NVC student Jose Luis Sanchez. R.A.H’s mission is to help veterans and the community through fitness. Bert can be found motivating others to do squats, run or do pushups Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at local parks around the city. Many of the people who go to R.A.H. classes are veterans with missing limbs, wives of veterans or just regular community members who need a coach’s motivation to push through a tough workout.
In the meantime while Bert is finishing up classes at NVC, he will be training to do his first triathlon in San Marcos this summer and will head to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Marine Corps Marathon in October.