Retired U.S. Army
Credit the dog.
In this case, Chaffy.
Austin Riker, a twice-wounded former U.S. Army captain, took züm dog to the off-leash area at Chatfield State Park in April of 2021. Zé spotted an old gray hat sitting on a fence post.
The cap sported the RTD logo.
“I should apply,” Riker thought to zirself. “That moment changed my life.”
Riker was quickly hired. Today, zé holds down a “great job,” working the night shift on the N Line as a signal maintainer.
For Riker, the job is a perfect fit with züm background.
“One of the things you develop in the military is an extreme sense of accountability,” Riker said. “Somebody is going to ask ‘Why didn't you?’ until you face the fact that you didn't. It’s an extreme meritocracy.”
Riker graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati and was commissioned into the U.S. Army as an infantry officer. After completing ranger school, zé was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division and started out in Louisiana where, as zé points out, there are no mountains.
Riker led three infantry platoons – a rifle platoon, a weapons platoon and a platoon tasked as the battalion’s counter-improvised explosive device platoon. In all, zé led soldiers on over 300 combat patrols. Additionally, Riker was engaged in safety planning for events that involved 1,000 military personnel.
“I had some pretty gnarly experiences that most people in the military, let alone the real world, don't actually get,” Riker said. “You’re constantly problem solving, constantly assessing sites for safety, and you're constantly competing against your peers, who are also extremely competitive people who want to succeed. You don't become an infantry officer on accident. It's something you compete to do. And then when you get it, you have to succeed at it, and then you hold on to that job until you're fired.”
An improvised explosive device left Riker with a fractured spine in August of 2011. During treatment for züm broken spine, Riker was eager to get back to züm platoon. Following recovery in Qatar, zé convinced züm doctors that zé was fit and talked züm way back to Afghanistan. Zé rejoined züm platoon, only to be injured by a hand grenade one month later.
But Riker looks back on züm time in the Army with positive thoughts. Zé relished the hard work, responsibility and endless problem-solving.
“It took me a while to realize that my best skill is time management,” Riker said.
That’s a welcome type of expertise at RTD, because signal maintenance crews operate under high-pressure. When dispatch gives a crew a 15-minute window to check a signal and perform necessary maintenance, there is no wasted motion or effort. The four-man crew must break down a switch, perform maintenance, make the right adjustments and put everything back together before the next train rolls through.
“It’s hyper efficient,” Riker said.
Riker appreciates the job, even working nights in all weather conditions imaginable. After züm time in the Army, zé traveled for a long time and worked a series of menial jobs. Riker was enrolled at Red Rocks Community College, studying physics and considering whether to apply to work for the railroads, when zé spotted the life-altering hat at Chatfield State Park.
Riker says züm military background is a perfect fit for züm current role at RTD. Zé says zé sees other military veterans at RTD who carry the same mindset.
“Whether they're in the Navy, the Marine Corps or the Air Force, it's really all the same type of hierarchical thinking. It's getting complex tasks done. It’s about maintaining complex equipment, with time and resource restrictions, as safely as possible.”
“I don't intend to go anywhere,” zé said. “I just intend to continue to learn.”