As we approach Memorial Day, it’s important to remember something. The people we honor, who’ve sacrificed everything for our freedoms, aren’t just veterans and service men and women—first and foremost, they’re human beings. They’re exceptional people, but people nonetheless, who face intense challenges most of us can never understand.
But, according to Marine Corps veteran Jacob Schick, it doesn’t matter if we understand those challenges or not. The only thing that matters is that we care—because we’ve all faced trauma and tragedy in our own lives. It’s a human problem. Through organizations like One Tribe Foundation (formerly 22Kill) and Carry the Load, Jacob and his fiancee Ashley Kamrath, are working tirelessly to normalize the challenges presented by PTSD and traumatic brain injuries so that veterans, military personnel, first responders, and more can learn to live better lives, regardless of their past.
“It's not just a military thing, it's a human thing. These are human issues,” Jacob told us. “We have a chance to make the world a better place. Military personnel and veterans are leading the charge in mental and emotional wellness.”
We had the privilege to speak with Jacob about his military background, the trauma he faced in the field, his journey to recovery, and the important work he and Ashley are doing to support the human beings who are carrying a heavy load every single day. Read our conversation below, and most importantly, contribute to their cause by following this link.
Here’s Marine Corps veteran and new Duck Camp Ambassador Jacob Schick.
Duck Camp: Military service is a tradition in your family, right?
Jacob Schick: I'm a third-generation combat Marine. My grandfather fought in World War II and my uncle fought in Vietnam. I knew at a very young age what I was going to do and ended up joining at the beginning of my senior year in high school. That was pre 9/11, so I was already signed up, ready to go. I volunteered for infantry and wasn't due to ship until December of 2001, then 9/11 happened, so I ended up going in October. The rest is history.
Could you tell us your story with the Marines?
Sure. I ended up going to boot camp shortly after 9/11, and went to San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot. I got done with boot camp and went up north to Pendleton, where I did my School of Infantry training. I loved every minute of that. You get to go from a basically trained Marine to a well trained Marine. And then, went from there to my unit, which was 1st Battalion 23rd Marines, Bravo Company.
We ended up getting a call that we were going to go to 29 Palms because our card got pulled in the Pentagon. It was our turn to go. That was a sobering moment for a kid, because, hell, in some way, shape, or form we were all kids. We knew this was training for the real deal. We ended up losing our first Marine in a training incident in March Air Force base in California. That really stuck with me. It probably sticks with the majority of the guys who experienced it. We knew that we were going, but it made it even more real.
Did you know where you were being deployed?
Not at first, but we finally got the call that we were going to go to Sunni Triangle, our primary area of operations in Iraq, which had been coined “The Death Triangle.” We knew it was going to be a true test of our training and our capabilities as modern day warriors. When we were told where we were going, it was just silent. Whether we wanted to fight or not, that's what we're going to be doing. We went to Kuwait and then went into Al Asad. We were only there maybe two and a half days, before we started hooking and jabbing.
We got to that place called Dulab, Iraq. We’d been in a standoff the night before with the Iraqi National Guard. It was a very gnarly situation that put us all on edge. We got back, and 15 minutes after I laid down on the cot, we got called again. That bad feeling went from my gut to my throat. I didn't know how it was going to go down, but I knew, for a fact, that we were about to get hit. You can call it my grandfather talking to me from beyond the grave, you can call it God, but I just knew.
Luckily, something told me to get the bomb blanket out of my commanding officer’s Humvee, which I did. I told all my guys to button up, and put on any protection they had. They already knew something wasn't right, because I never made them wear all that shit. When it's 130 degrees, and you have a 90 pound combat load you don't need help being miserable.
Three minutes after I started driving, the front left tire hit a triple-stacked, pressure-plate tank mine. It blew up directly beneath me. It blew me 30 feet from the top of the Humvee. I stuck the landing with my head because I'm a Marine and we believe in good form.
Do you remember much right after?
Because God’s a comedian, I never lost consciousness and I never went into shock. It took the Black Hawk 42 minutes to come and get me from the hot LZ. But, by the grace of God, none of my guys were severely wounded, I was the only one. I had multiple compound fractures in my left leg, my left arm. I lost part of my left hand and five inches of ulna bone in my left arm. All my ribs were broken. My right foot was crushed, which impeded the blood flow to my foot, which is why my right leg was eventually amputated. I had shrapnel all over my body, and my face and my neck and my chin. I had varying burns on my left leg, and my right arm. My shatterproof lenses shattered, so I had pieces of lens in my right eye.
When I hit the ground, the first thing I did was ask God not to take me in front of my guys. That became my focus. At that point, I knew I was dying. I knew I was hurt badly. They took me back up to the command post where docs started working on me right away. I was pissed. I was mad. I knew I was done. And I knew I was going to have to leave them.
To this day, that’s what I struggle with the most, that I had to leave them in harm's way and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. After they worked on me, they loaded me up on the pain tube, which is just a big airplane stacked full of people like me that were jacked up, and flew me to Germany. We lost two guys on that flight; they died on the way to Germany
I was only in Germany for 17 hours. They stabilized me, I had a couple operations in Germany, and then they sent me back to the States. And that's where my own personal war began. I learned all about waking up every day knowing that it's me versus me. I was in the operating room every 48 to 72 hours for the first three months I was home. I ended up having over 50 operations stateside and I had 23 blood transfusions.
The mental and emotional suffering was real. I was close to several people who didn't make it. I got close to their families, and their families got close to my family. I was in the hospital with three different guys who are now dead—two of them from suicide, one of them was from burn complications. I don't know why God hasn't pulled my card yet. I'm still here for whatever reason. I've lost a lot of friends to suicide, 32 to be exact. To this day, I'm carrying all of them with me. I'm still breathing and I probably don't deserve to be, but I am.
And that’s where your organization comes in.
The thing about service, being a Marine or serving in any capacity, is that you don’t have to wear a uniform to serve your nation. You don't. My work with 22KILL, which again is going to be One Tribe Foundation by the first week of June, is a reflection of that. I was in the Marine Corps for seven years. My job was not to save lives, it was to take them. Now, my job is to give people the power and the tools to save themselves. And I've got to say, it's a hundred times more rewarding but it's also a hundred times more challenging.
Can you describe the challenges a veteran faces that would force them to confront a decision like suicide?
Simply speaking, there's not a much higher purpose than serving your nation as a warrior. But, where we fall short in the military is, we put so much time, effort, and energy into the training on the front end, and we don't give them anything on the back end. There's no train out. It's basically a high five, a slap on the ass, and good luck in life.
We're working to change that, but it's a fight we're just going to have to keep fighting. It’s important for people to understand that veterans and military personnel do not own post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. The demons that I had in me were there long before I put on a Marine Corps uniform. Everyone experiences trauma and tragedy in some form or another. Someone else's experience isn't worse than someone else's. It can't be measured.
What happens with veterans is that their past trauma goes unaddressed and they’re told, "It’s going to be okay. We're going to get through it." Then, it's not brought up again. That's not how you heal. That's just suppressing. You're suppressing it, and then you carry it, physically you have it stored in your body. Then, when they experience these high-stress situations, it exacerbates those demons. You don't know how to deal with that stress in a healthy manner. You have no tools to deal with mental and emotional wellness in a proper manner. It's not just a military thing, it's a human thing. These are human issues.
We have a chance to make the world a better place. Military personnel and veterans are leading the charge in mental and emotional wellness. We're at the tip of the spear telling the rest of the world that it's okay to not be okay. The strong thing to do is to ask for help, and we’re hoping that's going to give a lot of people the courage and the permission to ask for help. Post traumatic stress is nothing more than a completely normal reaction to an otherwise abnormal situation. That's what it is. There's nothing wrong with you, you're normal. You don't feel that way, but you are.
At 22KILL, we went from serving veterans to military to first responders to law enforcement officers, now to front line healthcare workers and their families. Through One Tribe Foundation, the goal is to serve everybody. Everybody has their scars. Everybody has their demons. We want to be able to give them the tools to help them help themselves. We want to lock hands and say, "Hey, let's climb the mountain together," because we know the view at the top's going to be beautiful, and we're going to learn all the lessons on this climb.
What would you say to us civilians who can never understand the trauma that veterans have faced?
I'm never going to ask you to understand. Because you can't. The only thing you and I have in common is we've both been through trauma and tragedy. I know that without knowing you. I've read too many studies and papers to think that you just live life riding a unicorn on a rainbow that shits Skittles. We need to find comfort in the fact that we're not supposed to understand everyone else's issues in detail. And be okay with that.
We're conditioned, societally, to try and categorize pain and suffering, put it in a box, and then that way we can easily explain it. That's just a façade, because ultimately we don't understand the human brain. We're conditioned to not talk about things that we don't fully understand. I don't expect you to understand what it's like to get shot at or what it's like to do the things I've had to do, or see the things I've had to see. I don't expect you to understand that. I did it so you don't have to. I don't want you to understand that. You do understand pain and suffering. You do understand trauma and tragedy. Let's just be okay with that.
What people can do is lean in and love hard. I don't give a shit how you do or don't vote, who you do or don't pray to, you either suck or you don't. Not a lot of gray area there. I can disagree with you and you can disagree with me, and we still have the ability to love each other. What people can do is lean in and love veterans. Understand that they know what it's like to experience trauma and tragedy, because everyone does. Every single one of them.
Does that inform how we should view days like Memorial Day?
Absolutely. You don't get to get up, get your coffee, and walk to your mailbox not having to worry about getting blown up or shot at by happenstance. That safety and security's been paid for in blood by a lot of men and women who are far greater than I'll ever be. Trust me when I tell you, our freedom is the most expensive thing every person in this country gets to take advantage of every single day.
On our site, people can go join our team, They can donate, get other people to donate, get your whole family involved, and go do freedom right. We're asking you to take a few hours out of your year because my fallen brethren get a day. They get one day. That's their day. Things like Carry the Load, 22KILL, and One Tribe Foundation are just opportunities for you to help people live well. That's the only way we truly honor those that served. There's no plaque, there's no medal, there's no trophy. People need to live well. That's it.