“Any Marine who comes home in one piece makes me the happiest person in the world”
Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina and raised in Blythe, California, Jacob grew up like most kids: He was into sports, playing football and baseball with his friends and football and wrestling when he got to high school.
“I enlisted in the Marine Corps halfway through my senior year of high school,” Jacob said. “I always knew I would go into the military because I didn’t have the desire to go to college. I joined the Marine Corps mainly, though, because my father said I couldn’t and his brother was a Marine. Now my brother is becoming a Marine—and my dad is the odd man out, being in the Army!”
Jacob was assigned to 3rd Battalion 7th Marines based out of Twentynine Palms, California. In 2011, he deployed to Sangin, in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, described in 2010 by British newspaper The Guardian as “the deadliest area in Afghanistan.”
“My job was to walk in front of everyone with a metal detector and make sure nobody stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device),” Jacob explained. “When I wasn’t doing that, I was usually filling sand bags and carrying stuff from a recently destroyed patrol base.”
“I remember the whole event, because I never went unconscious,” he said, recalling the day he was injured—one day after Thanksgiving in 2011. “I had just gotten off post, and as soon as I laid down I was told we were going on patrol, so I got my stuff together and we left. About 45 minutes to an hour in, we approached a rather large hill. As soon as I got to the top, we took a short break. As soon as we moved, I took about six steps and an IED went off. It was pretty inconvenient to my life.”
When Jacob was first hurt, doctors only performed cleaning and repair surgeries to his leg and hand. It wasn’t until he arrived at Balboa Naval Medical Center in San Diego, California, that a doctor told him his leg was too shattered to repair. His next surgery was to amputate his leg midway through the shin. He’s also undergone back surgery and several hand surgeries.
The Semper Fi Fund assisted Jacob with an automobile grant and several financial grants. He says the grants were “extremely helpful. Semper Fi Fund helped me pay my bills.”
Jacob’s greatest hurdle was not so much his physical situation, but rather his emotional situation—mainly, the depression that came with his injury.
“I lost all my will to do anything, because I thought my life was over,” he said. “I had never seen a one-legged athlete until a few guys talked to me about it. Then I was able to see sports like sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball and noticed how good those guys were at what they did. That knowledge, along with the help I received from my parents, my wife and my roommate Jared who never let me feel sorry for myself, really pushed me to be better.”
Not just better, but exceptional: Jacob became a member of Team Semper Fi, which champions the idea of recovery through sport and is made up of more than 826 injured service members who compete in athletic events across the country.
“Being a Semper Fi Fund athlete gives me a great source of pride,” Jacob says, “because even though I can no longer take the fight to bad guys, I can take the fight to opponents. This organization has been life-changing for me, and I wholeheartedly support all the good work they do.”
“I’ve received numerous medals for competing so far at my level,” he continues. “I have four gold medals and a silver in Nogi JiuJitsu and two silvers and two bronze medals for competing in Gi.”
Jacob was even featured in an issue of Jiu Jitsu Magazine. “I feel it’s my biggest accomplishment, because people in my situation can see that and know that there is something they can do.”
These days, Jacob spends much of his time training, going to the gym and going to college. Five years from now he hopes to have a college degree—and some global recognition: “I want to be the first amputee to have medaled in the World Gi and Nogi competition for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.”
Looking back on his experience, Jacob notes that his story isn’t a sad one.
“I have taken what could have been a complete life-ruining situation and now use it to inspire and push others,” he says. “My experience taught me that no matter how bad you think you have it, there is always someone worse off than you. It taught me to humble myself when I have problems and not just start complaining. Whenever my real leg hurts I just think there is someone missing both of their legs. When my knee hurts on my amputated side, I just think there is an above-the-knee amputee somewhere who wishes they had a knee. Gaining the ability to be humble about my problems has been the biggest eye-opener for me.”
“If I had the chance to do it all again, I would without hesitation,” he adds. “Even though I got hurt, it doesn’t make me mad or jealous of the people who didn’t. Any Marine who comes home in one piece makes me the happiest person in the world.”