Building a Future on a ROTC Foundation

Joe Geiger stands in front of the ROTC building on the Mines campus
After 11 years in uniform (four years in ROTC and seven years as a U.S. Army captain), Joe Geiger '09 visited the ROTC building on the Mines campus in late June 2016. Now, he's shifting gears toward a career in teaching and politics.
(Photograph by Kathleen Morton)


Joe Geiger ’09 is not shy to say that being in ROTC as a student at Mines changed his life. His wife, Mel, agreed, remembering back to their high school days when he was a scrawny boy who had an afro of red hair and wore Hawaiian shirts like they were going out of style.

“I was able to get an engineering degree in four years and have a job and stay on track and have good grades and do ROTC because of the structure and discipline that ROTC provided. It’s multilevel,” Geiger said.

He knew he wanted to be in the military from a young age. Five generations of his family served in the U.S. Army, and he felt the calling, the desire, the responsibility to serve. He was awarded a National ROTC scholarship at the same time he was accepted to Mines—the only college he applied for. During his four years at Mines, he created lasting friendships with fellow cadets and ran up Mt. Zion too many times to count. Geiger graduated from Mines with a mining degree and went straight into the Army. He spent seven years in active duty, three years overseas and one year in combat in Afghanistan. His last day in the Army happened to be the day before he was interviewed for this story; his new reality was just setting in.

“I haven’t processed [being out of the Army] yet. Even when I was on campus, we were doing physical training five days a week in the morning, and then we had classes and leadership lab, so I was in uniform almost every day. And then the last seven years as my full-time job,” Geiger said.

But Geiger is not finished with the military. He accepted a job as an assistant professor of military science at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The position seems made for Geiger; it was vacant for four years because the requirements (a post-command captain with combat experience and an engineering degree) were pretty limiting. His Mines education made him the perfect candidate.

“Now I can kind of mold the little cadets into my vision of what a good officer should be. And I’m not the best officer—far from it. But I want to be able to take my slice of wisdom and try to make them better than I was,” Geiger said.

As if his time in the Army and new teaching position do not show his commitment to service, Geiger also tossed his hat into the race for a seat in New York’s state legislature. Twenty-four candidates initially announced they wanted to run in the primary on the Republican ticket. Of those, 13 were invited to interview before party chairs in the district. Eleven candidates were then invited to participate in a caucus, and Geiger finished third.

“Third place as someone who had just moved home recently, had zero connections or background in politics and effectively hadn’t been able to campaign at all [while serving in the military],” Geiger said. “The two people who beat me had been involved in politics and government for 20 years plus and they were already elected officials as it was. It was kind of a shocker.”

Now that he has the freedom to campaign, Geiger thinks he has as good of a shot as anyone to make the ticket for the primary in September and believes that because of the conservative demographics of the district, whoever wins the Republican primary will go on to win the election in November. He will campaign on three specific platforms: rooting out government corruption, fixing a crumbling infrastructure and growing a friendly business climate. He was also recently accepted to the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School, where regardless of whether he wins the election, he will go on to get an MBA.

Geiger’s life has been full of learning opportunities that he hopes will help make a difference and contribute to bettering the world. And even though he says it’s cheesy, Mines was instrumental in his success.

“I would say joining the Army was the second best decision I’ve made. The best decision was marrying Mel, and I’m really excited that we have a baby on the way,” Geiger said. “Our journey started years ago with me joining ROTC.”

Reprinted from the fall 2016 issue of Mines Magazine, the Colorado School of Mines Alumni Magazine

Story by Anica Wong

About Mines
Colorado School of Mines is a public R1 research university focused on applied science and engineering, producing the talent, knowledge and innovations to serve industry and benefit society – all to create a more prosperous future.