Posted on June 29, 2016
Now 42 years old, Jake enlisted in June 1992. He always knew he wanted to be in the Navy. His father, his uncle and both grandparents all served, but Jake decided he wanted something else.
I didn’t want to be a sailor on a ship, I wanted something a little more challenging, and that’s what led me to SEAL teams.”
“I did a total of 22 years in the Navy,” the California native continues, “ 18 of which were with the teams. I had 18 deployments overall; 12 of those were combat deployments, all to Afghanistan and Iraq and a couple of other hot spots.”
Jake’s first combat deployment was in 2001, immediately after the events of 9/11. He was medically retired in February 2015 as the result of an incident that happened more than four years earlier.
“In November 2010, we were in Helmand Province working on a village stability operation,” he recalls. “We got completely surrounded for about a 45-day period. There were daily attacks. On one of them, a grenade was shot over a wall and landed between me and a buddy of mine. I got a small fragment that hit me on the left side of the head. The cut was so small, I didn’t think much of it.”
Jake experienced a lot of headaches and was having trouble remembering things. “I chalked it up to lack of sleep, that sort of thing,” he says, “the cut didn’t quite heal, but it was so small, I just kept pushing it off.” By the time he returned home in April 2011, his head was still bleeding.
“I got home, I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I went for a physical, everything came back fine, but my personality was off, I just wasn’t right.”
Before long, it got to a point where Jake couldn’t talk. Spots were found on his brain, and he wound up spending 23 months in five different hospitals. The diagnosis: traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and post-concussion migraines.
“The TBI, for me, was extremely frustrating. I was kind of a tactical expert on a lot of things—I could talk to aircraft in one ear, command in another ear, and still be able to manage everything on the battlefield. I went from that to not being able to hold a simple conversation. I had a big struggle.”
Jake and his wife (they’ve been married for 11 years and have five children) first learned about the Semper Fi Fund when he was in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C. “Semper Fi Fund came to my room and sat with my wife and helped her out with everything. They’re a blessing.”
“I think in the beginning, it wasn’t so much the care they did for me, it’s what they did for my family,” Jake continues. “Giving my wife someone to talk to, giving her resources. At one point they even helped her out with travel arrangements, she was going back and forth between Virginia Beach and Maryland.”
“I guess the biggest thing I see with Semper Fi Fund now, they’re getting guys out and doing things, they’re keeping the camaraderie. You’re with guys who know what you’re going through. Getting out of the house, I think, helps in really reintegrating into society, yet at the same time you’ve got a huge support network that understands what you’re going through. You have someone to share it all with. It’s just huge.”
These days, in addition to focusing on his recovery, Jake spends time working with Warrior Canine Connection. Jake’s initial internship with WCC was part of the support provided by the Semper Fi Fund.
“I found out that [working with dogs] really was my therapy,” he says. “My speech was getting better, my pain scale was getting better– it’s the one thing I can point to that was the big turning point in my recovery. I got so much benefit out of this, it finally kind of clicked one day: If I go to work with WCC, that’s my sense of purpose. Even to help just one other guy would be huge.”
Lundy, a two-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever, is Jake’s service dog from WCC. “He probably worked with 70 or 80 different patients, but he chose me.”
When asked the one thing that he wants people to know about his story, Jake responds with a piece of advice that could be universal.
“The biggest thing is don’t give up,” he says. “It gets better the more you work the treatment plans and things like that. If you want to get better, you can—you’ve just gotta keep working it.”