Jake is the creator of, A Marine’s Life In Lyrics, a blog focused on healing and music. Jake grew up on a farm in Northern Illinois and enlisted in the Marine Corps in November 2005. He deployed twice to Iraq with 1st Battalion 3d Marines serving first as a team leader and then as a squad leader. He got out of the Marine Corps in 2009 and attended Illinois State University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. Jake is currently working on an exciting documentary titled, “To See Them As They Are“ focused on combat related mental health illnesses and the difficulties veterans face transitioning home from the military. Check out A Marine’s Life in Lyrics Facebook page too.
LOA: How do you reconcile the difference in gravity between what you did in the military and what you do as a civilian? Do you get restless? How do you deal with this restlessness?
Jake: I honestly don’t have a good answer for this because I’m still trying to figure that answer out myself. I definitely get restless and in the past I would drink it away, or try and stay busy doing something else to take my mind off of it all. Civilian life can seem so trivial after experiences like those in the military and that’s something I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with.
LOA: Scott Fitzgerald said, “all life is a process of breaking down.” How have you used these breakdowns (often of the body and the mind, and even the nerves) as a platform for rebirth?
Jake: It’s crazy you asked this question because I recently came to the realization that my depression comes in waves or cycles; endless vicious cycles. But I’ve learned to better recognize the signs that I’m slumping back into a depression which allows me pick up on triggers that cause anger or sadness or whatever emotion it may be, and then I can really think about why those things might be bothering me and what I can do to remedy the situation. Meditation has been invaluable during those times when I’m down. I now almost look forward to the times when I get depressed because it’s during those moments that I learn the most about myself and the world around me. Good things always seems to come out of it and in the end I feel more enlightened each time I battle through those tough times.
LOA: What is the most life-changing event you’ve participated in since getting home?
Jake: Finally doing something about the way I’ve been feeling has been BY FAR the biggest life-changing event since getting home. For 9 years I’ve been living with major depression and I just couldn’t take putting on my happy face anymore. It’s exhausting trying to hide the fact that you’re depressed and it wasn’t helping any to bury those feelings so I decided to do something about it. I had no idea that when I started writing and created my blog that it would lead me to where I am today. It was always my dream to make a documentary at some point in my life, I just never dreamt it would be about a topic like depression, with me as the lead character.
LOA: What do you miss about the military?
Jake: The guys I served with. There’s a bond that is made when you put men through stuff like that that just can’t be replicated anywhere else. In those situations it doesn’t matter what race, religion, or social class you come from, you’re all brothers. To quote Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day speech:
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother”
LOA: What do you NOT miss about the military?
Jake: Everything else besides that mentioned in the previous question would fall into the category of “things I do not miss about the military”. There’s so many things I hated about the military; hurry up and wait, leaders who had no business leading, the endless rules and regulations, and just overall my personal freedom to do and say what I want. I didn’t like feeling like a robot, but to be fair, overall it was a good experience and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
LOA: When you reflect on your time in uniform, what moment, or event, comes back to you most often?
Jake: There’s really two moments that jump out at me the most. One was when I was a boot and we were on the big island of Hawaii at Pukahola Training Area. It was really early in the morning; everyone was still sleeping in their tents. I was on radio watch with another Marine from my squad and we heard a gun shot just a couple hundred meters away where Marines from weapons platoon were camped out. I waited a few seconds to see if I heard anything else but it was silent. I realized then that something bad had happened; I just had that sick feeling in my stomach. So I called into our battalion COC to report hearing the gun shot and that’s when I heard the yelling and screaming begin. A Marine had went into the port-a-potty, put his M-16 in his mouth, and ended his life that beautiful morning in those seemingly endless fields of lava rock.
The other moment that jumps out at me was when our OP got rocketed and one of the rockets never detonated upon impact so our chain of command decided to send out my squad to investigate the impact site. While sitting in our cordon waiting for EOD to arrive we heard the unmistakable sound of more incoming rockets. That noise is what still sticks with me to this day. I sometimes have flashbacks to that moment when I hear the sirens of emergency vehicles or something along those lines.
LOA: Do you discuss your time overseas with your civilian friends? How do they respond?
Jake: I’ve discussed some higher level experiences that I had overseas with some of my civilian friends, and maybe one or two I’ve gotten into a little more detail with. Most don’t know how to respond. It’s a topic that many have a hard time truly wrapping their head around. It’s tough, I’ve lost friends and have had relationships with family members ruined because of my time overseas. It changes people, and sometimes that change is hard for those who haven’t experienced combat, or haven’t spent any time in a different country to understand how veterans might be feeling when they transition home.
LOA: It looks like you did pretty well on the indiegogo campaign. The promo for the “To See Them As They Are” project is great. What’s next in the process? Hitting the road soon?
Jake: The Indiegogo campaign did well. It was was able to raise enough to make this dream a reality. It wouldn’t have been possible without the help of a lot friends and family; it was very much a grassroots campaign, as most crowd funding is. It’s been a lot of work just to get to this point, having never made a film before my past few months have been spent learning as much as I can. If it wasn’t for some really good blogs and youtube videos out there, I would probably be a little more worried than I am already – but the real work is just beginning. Filming starts in two weeks and over the next 5 months I’ll be traveling over 10,000 miles by car and another 1,000 miles by foot and backpack out in the backcountry of some of the most beautiful national parks in the southern and western states. I’ll be traveling solo for the duration of the trip as I hope to find some answers and some peace along the way. The idea is, spending some time outdoors will provide me with the therapy I was unable to get through other avenues. After the road trip I’ll start the post-production process and we’ll see what kind of film we get out of this. It’s been a crazy adventure to this point, can’t wait to see what the future holds.