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This blog exists only as an archive. It is a journal that serves as a window into my life as a Marine combat veteran serving in Iraq and Afghanistan; it was written with no filter, no politics and no agenda. Please feel free to follow my journey from beginning to end. Welcome to my life.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Top Ten Moments of 2008

10. Attending the Wisconsin Badgers' Bowl game back in January as a military honoree. Being back on the sidelines was incredible, the atmosphere was amazing, and obviously the Fifth Quarter was the best time of the whole day.

9. Passing the Land Nav course at sniper school. The first week of school they hand you a compass, a map, and a list of 6 points, (along with a pack holding a sandbag, an overweight radio, and flak). The points are generally absurdly far away from each other, and you need to get half of them at night time, with no flashlight. All but two people failed the first attempt. I failed it, but successfully achieved King Blister status, due to my feet looking like raw hamburger meat. The next day I went back out and hobbled my way through it. It was honestly the first time in my life that I ever thought I may not have been tough enough.

8. Dominating the GMAT. Well, maybe not dominating. I didn't even score what I was hoping for, and I'm sure there are about a billion geniouses at MIT and Harvard that would scoff at my score, but...they are most likely complete dorks.

7. Watching Clay and Stephan take part in the first ever "Fleece Bet". Now this needs some back ground. Whenever there was an argument or challenge within the snipers in Sangin, the guys not involved would all start chanting "Fleece Bet! Fleece Bet!" in unison. The two involved would then have the option of partaking in a fleece bet. It's simple really. A fleece bet is kind of exactly what it sounds like, the stakes are simply that the loser must wear a Marine Corps issued polar fleece for 24 hours, that Marine was also not allowed to go down to the river to cool off. You must remember that in July it was about 125 degrees, so this was intense. Now, if one of the arguers wished to accept the fleece bet, but the other did not, then the fleece bet somehow was morphed into a "manhood challenge". The rules of the manhood challenge were never made entirely clear, however, the challenger somehow assumed possession of the other Marine's manhood (figuratively of course). He could then do whatever he pleased with it. I tried trading Clay's manhood to some ANA soldiers, but they didn't want it, so I flushed it down the river to Goreshk.

6. Listening to the ANA commander at a patrol base we were working at talking trash to the local Taliban commander who had attacked us earlier. The Taliban started the fight, but broke it off after we started make it ugly for them. The ANA commander then got on the radio and talked to them on their frequency, telling him we'd supply them with guns and ammo if he came back for more. He then called him a bad Muslim and said some inappropriate things about his mother and sisters. Hilarious.

5. Hearing that my dad finished RAGBRAI, a 500 mile, week long bike ride across the state of Iowa. He trained with that goal for the first 6 months of the year, and I found out via satellite phone that he and his team finished the whole thing. Hopefully this one makes next year's list again.

4. Figuring out the Rubik's Cube and finishing Pride and Prejudice. There is currently an ongoing race amongst the members of our team to see who will pick up a chick first for either being able to solve a Rubik's Cube, or for being able to intelligently discuss your thoughts on Mr. Darcy's mirculous transition from a prideful man to a .... blah blah blah. That one is really going to take some work.

3. Graduating Sniper School. I still can't believe I've been priveleged enough to join one of the most elite fraternities in the world.

2. Securing Showdown victory on the final play of the game against the class of 2000. With no time left on the clock, Mike Schmitt did his best to snatch victory away from us, even with his psycho brother Joe in his grill, but the ball fell to the turf. Of course the Showdown Afterparty could have its own place on the countdown, but we'll throw them together and give other moments a chance...

1. Seeing my mom at Victory Field after landing Stateside, having spent 7 months in Afghanistan. I mean, come on, was there any doubt what would occupy the top spot? Seriously, the video of her running to get me has about a kagillion hits on youtube.

Here's a link to last year's list

Thanks Badgers

We had a little party last night at the Wood house, lots of my parent's friends from both church and work, along with neighbors and parents of my friends were in attendance. The festivities began at 4 pm, which gave me a good 30 minutes of undivided Badger bowl game watching. After the guests began to arrive I of course did the polite thing and socialized, but I was always looking over people's shoulders trying to catch a glimpse of the game. The game started out competitive, but eventually devolved into a complete debacle. This, of course, caused me to have numerous emotional breakdowns mid-conversation with people that I had not seen in one or two years. It usually went something like this-

Guest: "So Jake, we just want you to know how glad we are that you returne-"
Me: (slaps both sides of head, squats down, and clenches fists) "WHAT, NO @#$@ 2 #@#%"
Guest: (turns around, notices game for first time) "Oh, I see your alma mater is having some trouble"
Me: (trembling with rage, forcing smile) "Yes. Yes they are."

After things got more and more out of hand, I eventually had to seek out my brother in law Ryan to turn the game off. I thought that was taken care of, but later discovered that my buddies got more of a kick out of watching me occasionally glance over and notice the slaughter, so it eventually was turned back on. Thanks guys, missed you a lot.

Hey Badgers, lets try not to embarrass ourselves next year, okay?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Well, I tried going up to bed to catch up on some sleep. Actually, I'm not going to lie, I went up because I somehow still believe Santa won't come until I fall asleep. I figured it'd be easy, I mean, I'd been sleeping on our living room chair for about 3 hours while the rest of the fam was having fun. I thought I'd walk up there and be asleep the second my head hit the pillow, especially considering that I was up talking to my good friend Dave until about 6 in the morning the night before. But, here I am, staring at a computer screen, watching the clock climb ever higher towards midnight.

Obviously tomorrow is Christmas. Today my parents, sister Meghan, and I went to our church's Christmas Eve service. My mom was singing in the choir, she sings like an angel (hey, give me a break, I still haven't gotten my gift from her yet, things could improve...). The church service began a little difficult for me. When I walked in I was obviously thankful to be there. There were moments on this past deployment that almost caused last year's Christmas to be my final one. I soon got over those thoughts though, I generally try not to dwell on those things. But about 5 minutes in, a line something to the effect of "there are no more shepherds in the world" was said. Pretty harmless right? For some reason though, it caught my ear, and my mind started rolling it around and eventually paralleled it to Col. David Grossman's book 'On Killing'. So here I am, Christmas Eve service, thinking about how there are shepherds still in this world, they just wear flak jackets and the wolves carry machine guns. What a weird train of thought for church. I mean, seriously Wood, get a grip. But it choked me up, because a lot of those guys did not share my good fortune, and for 20 of them, those 'skin of your teeth' moments turned out deadly, and those moments stole every Christmas they had left.

So as the clock behind me strikes midnight, and the calender flips to December 25th, let me be one of the first people to wish you a Merry Christmas. I am so blessed to be able to share this day with my family, the people that I love and fight for, the people that God has blessed me with for unmatched support. I hope that this Christmas finds all of you in good health, good spirits and good company. And, political correctness be damned, happy birthday Jesus.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Bad Week....Ends Up Pretty Good

Aaaaaand this dude is home. I showed up at Palm Springs Airport this morning thinking the Vegas line on me making it home tonight as scheduled were about 6 to 1. But, a small layover (and insignificant delay) in Chicago Ohare and here I am.

Overall the trip wasn't too bad. On my leg from California to Chicago, they did manage to stick me next to the only other person on the plane bigger than me. It's always one of those moments. Maybe you don't know what it feels like, when you have to duck to enter the plane, and 80% of the seats are already filled, and as you walk down the aisle people are looking up at you with this fear in their eyes, a fear that says "please God, don't let his seat be next to mine". It's a funny feeling. But then your eyes connect with that one dude that knows where you're coming from, because he himself just made the same shameful walk down Main Street. And then it happens. My eyes glance down to my ticket and then up to the numbers lining the storage compartments, and, at the same time, we realize. Fate has put us together. Right smack together, shoulder rubbing, knees banging together, and the next 4 hours the two of you are going to be like siamese twins.

Other than that I can't complain.

Well, except for the fact that I had to prepay for long term parking in Palm Springs. That price tag came to $186... if you read my previous post, you'll know that I showed up without any cash flow. I had $180 to my name, I had had my buddy Shawn cash a personal check earlier in the week and that was all that was left. Luckily the guy at the gate was in the Christmas spirit and spotted me the six bucks. So now I'm traveling halfway across the country with no cash, no credit card, and no checks...translation: recipe for disaster.

Knowing that I was not going to have any money for food I began devising a plan to steal a piece of cardboard and make a sign that read: "Marine Combat Veteran: Lost money and cards, need cash for food". Really? I was going to do that? Probably not. I mean, I have gone a couple days without food in my life (ie. Sniper school, Afghanistan, etc.), so I hope it wouldn't have come down to that. Luckily it didn't matter, because I hit up the USO at O'Hare. And, on a side note, if you don't know what USOs are or what they do, look into it. The sweet old ladies that spend all day baking goods just to take them to USOs at their airports so servicemembers have a snack are the best people in the world. I really do love old patriotic ladies, they might be the coolest demographic out there.

So, here I am. Rocking out in 3 degree weather, Bettendorf, Iowa style. Good to be home.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A bad week gets a little stranger...



You tell me, is this normal?

So I thought this week was going to turn out great.  I mean, it started a little rough Sunday morning when the Packers decided not to show up again, but as soon as that debacle was over, Sunday Funday commenced, and we all know how much I love Sunday Fundays.  The great thing about this Sunday, however, was that it involved the Manhattan Beach Holiday Fireworks show.  So the usual crowd congregated at Shellbacks and dug in for the festivities.  If you've never seen me around fireworks, let me tell you that I'm like a little kid watching them.  I love fireworks.  I digress.  Well, the fireworks were fantastic, and the evening was continued both at Shellbacks and Poncho's karaoke (I have to take a moment to toss Matt Runyon a shout-out...nobody rocks Seal's Kissed By a Rose quite like you).

Well, Monday morning rolled around, time to get back to base right?  First and foremost, let me say that Californians cannot drive in any sort of inclement weather to save their lives.  So driving down the 10 was a lesson in keeping your cool.  Then, as I'm driving up US-62 the rain became snow.  Want to watch people freak out?  Drive through California in a snow storm.   Obviously, some semi-truck decided to jack knife by Yucca Valley, causing me to sit in traffic for 5 hours...stand still.  A total of 9 hours in my car on Monday.

So I'm sitting in my car, waiting to get through the wreck, watching my gas gauge slowly claw its way towards E.  Eventually it hits, and my car dings at me.  I look at the screen and it says I have 67 miles left on the tank.  Some quick math and I figure that the closest gas station is only 9 miles up the road, no problem.  Except, unbeknownst to me, I had 4 hours of idle time left.  I rolled into the gas station with 7 miles on the tank.

So then I get out to pump the gas.  I hate going inside, so I'm gonna pay outside.  Open the wallet and....NOPE.  No credit card.  What possibly could have happened?  Oh yeah, Poncho's Karaoke- Coronas, margaritas, Runyan serenading me, things got weird.  Must have left the tab open.... Nothing I can do now.  $22 to my name, gotta make it stretch.

Get on base.  Things to do, things to do.  I'm going to go get my medals mounted for the Ball we're having in January.  Okay, now where did I put my medals from last year???  I had them in storage... nowhere to be found.  I mean, I bought the ones from this year, but where are last year's?  Not only do I not want to buy them again, but, I soon realize, I have no way to buy them this year if I have to.

Okay, so I realize cash flow may be my biggest issue for the week.  US Bank, gotta find one of those.  Yucca Valley?  Nope.  Palm Springs?  Nope.  Palm Desert? Bingo.  I hop in the car and drive the hour to Palm Desert.  Plot the address in my navigation thingy, and it cruises me into some residential neighborhood, complete with kids getting off a school bus.  No US Bank here.  Plot in the second address, it takes me to a business park... negative ghost man, the pattern is full.  I say to myself, "maybe technology is failing me, I'll check the yellow pages."  So I stop at a gas station, get a number, call it, here "...number has been disc-".   

Steam is literally coming out of my ears.

Boom.  Everyone's leave papers are done wrong.

Boom. My flight home through Chicago is probably already cancelled.

Boom.  I spill spaghetti sauce on my shirt.

Then today is "Show up at 6 am for classes on crazy/drinking/spousal abuse/STDs/crazy/DUIs" day.  Sweet.  Six hours of classes later, all of which go something like this-

"Hey Marines!  I know we're all heroes, but let me tell you what, heroes don't drink/go crazy/drive fast/beat their wives..."

"Don't be stupid"

yada yada yada.

So then I get out of this auditorium, and of all things, there is 5 inches of snow on the ground, and its still dumping on us.  This is the DESERT.  Where am I, and how do I get out?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Memorial



Friday was our memorial service for the 20 men that we lost in Afghanistan.  There's really nothing to write about regarding it.  The weather was fittingly dark and gloomy, lots of friends and family of the deceased were present.  For my old platoon, Golf-3, many former members, now out of the Marine Corps, came back to help us honor the dead.  I hadn't seen many of them in a very long time.  Brian Wilson, who skipped his graduation ceremony from Texas Tech, Steve 'Machine Gun' Wherry and his wife, expecting their first child, Anthony Williams, rocking out in his grunge goatee (I expected nothing less), and many more all showed up to offer support.  

The magnitude of the number didn't really strike until the Sergeant Major called final roll.  The first three or four names he read out were met with instant "Here sergeant major", the final twenty that he called were met only with silence.  

"Sergeant Washington."
"Sergeant Michael WASHINGTON"
"Sergeant MICHAEL T. WASHINGTON"

And the list went on for 19 more names.  The only sound heard in response were the sobs from the families behind.  

Dear God, where do we get such men?
What loving God has provided, that each generation, afresh, 
there should arise new giants in the land.
Were we to go but a single generation without such men,
we would surely be both damned and doomed.
--anonymous

GMAT

For all the curious people out there, the GMAT on Saturday went just fine.  I have to admit, I was a little more nervous than I expected, I guess that happens when you haven't taken an important test in a while and your intellect has been beaten down with a blunt object by the Marine Corps for three and a half years.  I was nervous enough Friday night that I actually walked across the street from the sleazy motel I was staying in and bought a beer at a 7-11 (I know, I know, class act all the way through).  Once I arrived at the test center though, things started falling into place.  I went into the restroom and performed my typical pre-test ritual of looking at myself in the mirror and convincing myself that I actually AM smart, and once the clock started ticking on the actual exam I went into the zone.

As good as I felt about how the test went, I wasn't so sure that I instantly clicked 'score test'.  You see, at the end of the exam, you have 10 minutes to choose whether to cancel your score or have it graded.  If you cancel it, your score report shows up saying that you sat for the exam but chose not to have it graded, obviously for people feeling that they blew it.  Otherwise, you click on score test and you have an instant score.  Of course there was no way I wasn't going to have mine scored, but I did sit there for a minute or two and think back to a few of those math problems that made me cross-eyed.  Eventually I clicked it and received my score, holding my breath for the brief moment it took me to find it on the screen.

So I finally have that little hurdle behind me.  I didn't blow the doors off the exam, but I scored well enough that I'm not worried about getting in anywhere I want to go.  Now I suppose the next step is visiting some schools with my dad in January and working on translating my resume from "scout sniper looking for pirate hunting job" to "Precision battlefield instrument seeks academic opportunities through which to advance leadership potential and gain valuable analytical tools for today's business environment."  I think I just threw up in my mouth. 

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Well, my plan for GMAT domination is falling apart before it ever had the chance to get off the ground.  Saturday is fast approaching, and the idea had been to take off work Thursday and Friday, drive to Ontario, rent a cheap hotel with no TV, lock myself in with a case of Red Bull and cram-out until Saturday AM.  Basically, my college/sniper school plan.

However, the Marine Corps, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that our barracks need a 24 hour roving security detail (maybe the Taliban followed us home?), and has decided to give me a 4 hour time slot in the middle of Friday...and middle of Saturday.  This, even though I have submitted a formal request for Thursday and Friday off, noting that I was taking the GMAT on Saturday.

But it doesn't end there.  Not only does my Friday duty conflict with my efforts to cram quantitative data sufficiency problems, it conflicts with our Battalion's memorial service for the 21 men we lost on deployment this year.  Just found out about that one.  Now its one thing to pull me off my plans for duty, its a whole other animal to expect me to walk around the barracks during that memorial service.  I would gladly have altered my plans for that service, I would not miss it for the world.  

To expect me, or any other Marine from 2/7, to be on duty during that memorial service is a slap in the face.  I know there are plenty of Marines on this base who have never sniffed a combat zone, who have never seen a buddy shot, who are perfectly capable of handling the 'security' situation.

All that being said, I will attend the memorial service in the face of any consequences, and I'm going to completely dominate the GMAT, regardless of the Marine Corps' efforts to hinder it.  Additionally, Joe and I have decided that we need to drink one beer for every point I score on the GMAT, and one shot for every fallen brother...in Joe's words, "time to tap the strategic reserve."  (I may scale that 1:1 ratio back slightly)

Nathaniel Blake Lucas

I received the following email this morning:

Jake,

James Eckles is the son of a high school friend of mine. Dave keeps me informed of James's status. It is through him that I came to know about Blake Howie and Nathaniel Windsor. Holding them and all my brothers in the Profession of Arms close to my heart, my wife and I have chosen Nathan and Blake's name to carry on. On 1 DEC 2008, Nathaniel Blake Lucas was born in to this world in Ocean Springs, MS. He has spent the last 7 days in the NICU recovering from lung problems. Like his two namesakes, he is a fighter. Here is my blog entry where we decided what to name our third son:

http://lucasbabywatch.blogspot.com/2008/11/whats-in-name.html

Please send me anything about these two warrior/heros that I can pass on to my son.

My thoughts and prayers are with you and all warriors.


If you didn't read my blog while I was in Iraq you probably do not recognize the names Blake Howey and Nathan Windsor.  They both deployed with me to the Anbar province with 3rd Platoon, Golf Co.  Within the first two months, both had been killed by insurgents; Blake in an IED while we were on patrol, and Nathan during a raid on an insurgent checkpoint.

I've never met the man who sent me this email,  nor did he ever meet the two Marines whom he named his own child after, but what a tribute.  Nathan and Blake were both great kids, and their memories are now cemented in the lives of a family that they touched only through their sacrifice.  


Monday, December 08, 2008


Matt, Joe, myself and Jon at the USC-UCLA in the Rose Bowl.  Unfortunately, this was my first time ever in the Rose Bowl, my 8 years as a Wisconsin Badger player/fan have failed to produce a trip where I can actually wear a shirt that doesn't make me sick to my stomach.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

G Co Reunion




The photo above was taken during one of my last weeks in Iraq. The Marines pictured in it were the original members of the fireteam I led over there, from l to r, they are Joe P., Matt A., myself, and Kevin C.

After my deployment to Iraq, I left my old company, G Co. and joined the sniper platoon. Those three remained with Golf, and deployed together again this year without me to Afghanistan. This was one of the most difficult parts of leaving the line and going to snipers, redeploying without the men I had been with the year before. When we first arrived in Afghanistan, Golf Co began working right away. Knowing they were out there while I was still inside the wire was awful.

About two weeks after they began working, my platoon hit a catastrophic IED. This was not the first time they had been in contact, but it was the first time they took KIA. Four of my friends inside the humvee were killed, and Kevin C. was seriously wounded, with burns over 70% of his body and a broken leg.

About a month and a half later, Joe P. was on a mounted patrol when once again they were hit. This time two men were killed, and Joe and another friend of mine were trapped inside, both seriously burned.

Tonight Golf Co. came home. Most of them. Some had come home already, whether in coffins or on stretchers. Tonight I saw my old team for the first time in 8 months. Matt made it through the deployment unscathed. Joe and Kevin were flown out from San Antonio so they could welcome their brothers home. Both wearing neoprene body suits, both showing signs of their burns, but, amazingly, both still the same. Joe still had his louder than life laugh, and Colbert still had his 'gangsta' walk, only now it was legit because his leg had been so badly broken. They both spoke freely about what happened, spicing it up with the necessary morbid humor.

At one point I was sitting at a bench with Kevin when a woman came up to us and started showing us a scrap book she had made of Golf Co's deployment. I didn't recognize her, but the moment I flipped the first page, I knew. Inside the first page was a picture of a kid I hadn't seen in 7 months. Layton C. He was driving the humvee that Kevin was in. He had been killed instantly. His entire family, mom, dad, and brother (also a Marine) had come out to welcome home Golf. Staring at his picture I didn't know what to say. I had never met her, and I hadn't been there with her son. I simply stood up, shook her hand, and said "My name is Jake, I was with Layton in Iraq. It's a pleasure to meet you." How inadequate.

Tonight really reminded me how much of a brotherhood this really is. I don't dwell on it often, but seeing those guys tonight certainly brought it back into my conscience.



The top photo is some old 3rd Plt guys: l to r- Joe, Me, Brian, Kevin, Chris, Clay
Bottom photo: Myself and Kevin

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

D-Day

So I've been trying to motivate myself to get down and really apply myself to studying for the GMAT.  So far, results have been iffy.  I decided I needed the same thing I needed in college to force me to buckle down...a deadline.

So today I went on the mba.com website and registered to take the test 10 days from now, Saturday the 13th, in Ontario.  With that looming overhead, I have no choice but to force myself through about 200 quantitative data-sufficiency questions a night.

Hopefully I don't need the other study tool I needed in college...Jack and Cokes at Wando's.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Recap

I think that perhaps I have recovered enough from the past weekend to finally recap what has been dubbed an 'Epic' Showdown game.

But before I get into that, I'd like to take a second to thank the Schmitt family for once again opening their home to me for the Thanksgiving holiday.  For three years now they have hosted me in La Canada, and, considering that I alone account for at least 10 pounds of turkey consumption, that is no small feat.  Thank you so much for your gracious generosity.

And now what you've all been waiting for.  

There was much build up leading into this year's game.  It was the 8th annual playing, and 2000 was riding high after taking a 4-3 lead in the series last year.  1997 prepared the best way they knew how, sign a great free agent QB in the off season, practice between none and zero times, show up to the field an hour early, make a few cocktails, drink a few beers, and talk about how much we hate all things 2000.

After winning the coin toss, 1997's offense took the field.  Walking up to the line, Joe and I noticed a hole in the 2000 defense, and immediately audibled to our secret play "Check Muir", the resulting throw was a 65 yard touchdown pass.  The beating continued for two quarters, with '97 heading into halftime with a comfortable 28-6 lead over 2000.

'97 was no more than 25 seconds into halftime before they started a terrible dance party/happy hour.  No stretching/strategizing/focusing combined with lots of lounging/cocktails/cocky attitude translated into a VERY poor second half.

2000 came out with some attitude to start things off, and quickly carved up the '97 lead.  Long story short, Mike Schmitt put 2000 in position to win the game when he drove them down the field and settled in to a 1st and goal with 35 seconds left.  Eventually, 2000 found themselves down by 5, with 4th and goal and 4 seconds remaining.  However, intense QB pressure from myself and Joe forced Mike into a nearly impossible throw, resulting in a game ending incomplete pass.

1997 basked in victory and pain on the sidelines for a long time after the game, nursing sore legs, but enjoying rejuvenated egos.  Eventually the players moved the festivities up to the Schmitt house, for what is now known as the Best Party of the Year...Every Year.  2000 picked up the tab for the kegs (obviously) and '97 took pulls of Jaeger from the trophy cup.  Did I mention that we also showered each other in some bubbly while sitting on each others' laps in a hot tub?  I still don't know why I posted THOSE photos, talk about political suicide.

So that was it, the party lasted all night, and, in the spirit of the weekend, we rose early the next day and cruised into LA to tailgate for the SC-ND debacle, followed by a typical Shellback's Tavern Saturday night mess.

Best weekend of the year, three years running.