It’s long about time I introduced people I know and who read my musings to Jake Wood. A true hero and someone I think you might be interested in following. Moreover, he’s someone I hope you’ll contribute to and assist the good work he and his team are doing down in Haiti – but first, about Jake:
I first met Jake about ten years ago. At that time, Jake was a senior in high school and he and his dad, Jeff, joined up at a tailgate party outside Camp Randall that I was at with a bunch of my University of Wisconsin alumni friends. Jake had recently committed to play football with the Wisconsin Badgers. Aside from being a pretty massive kid (6’6″ and just a sandwich under 300 lbs.), I was struck by how polite he was. Everything was “yes Sir” and “thank you Sir”.
Well, Jake’s career at Wisconsin was limited. He saw some playing time, but mostly watched from the sidelines – due to injuries and sitting behind Joe Thomas, who is now an All-Pro Tackle with the Cleveland Browns (and perhaps the most dominant tackle in Wisconsin football history – heck, maybe in college football history).
Nevertheless, rather than mope about not playing, Jake earned academic awards and graduated from the university with a double major in real estate / urban land economics and political science.
Corporate finance and a good living followed, right? Wrong.
In between, 9/11 happened. With several options, Jake did the surprising. Rather than use his last year of eligibility to play football as a 5th year senior, he immediately sought out the Marines. While they had him pegged for Officer Candidate School, he refused. He wanted to serve in the front and not sit back calling the shots. So he went into Infantry and served as boots on the ground in Iraq (a great article from 2007 on why he enlisted and comments about Jake by Joe Thomas and others is here).
During his service in Iraq, Jake started a blog. Jake’s Blog.
It started out as a way for Jake to communicate with his family, but given his Wisconsin football connections, it spread and became something more. Much more.
Within months, Wisconsin football fans learned of the blog and readership of his musings on the daily life of Marines in Iraq, his often stinging criticisms of situations there and general musings about life as a Marine, surged into the tens of thousands – especially following some press reports about the blog and Jake’s service. Various press agencies, both in Wisconsin and elsewhere – even New York, wrote of Jake’s blog and his story.
During this time, I was among the avid readers of Jake’s writings. Always interesting, always pertinent, and often very funny. More importantly, it gave me a way to follow the safety of the polite high schooler I had met just 5-6 years before.
Anyway, Jake completed his stint in Iraq and came home. But he wasn’t done. Rather than remain in the States and serve out his enlistment, he “re-upped” for another tour of duty with the Marines, applied for and completed the Marine’s Sniper school – with the connected request to go to Afghanistan.
Readers of his blog at this time got to follow the trials of the course (very few make it through). Whatever the obstacles, he beat them and was on his way to Afghanistan.
Readers at this time immediately noted Jake’s “absence” on his blog. He never posted much about it, other than making clear that he was in Afghanistan doing what Marine Snipers do.
Through the time he was in Afghanistan, reports were few. He was in areas he couldn’t mention, without the luxury of internet connections available to troops in Iraq, and doing work that he couldn’t write about.
Nevertheless, I and his growing legion of followers welcomed every short note or picture sent back, just to know he was safe.
So, Jake eventually made it home. He had a bit of time left in the Marines that he spent teaching at the Sniper school, but his postings mainly centered on his desire to go back to a “normal life” and continue his schooling – graduate business school and the riches that would follow awaited, right? Wrong.
Indeed, his stint in the Marines ended earlier this past fall. Short of a few posts about his travels – he’d met a nice girl in California and was spending his time traveling when he wasn’t applying to grad schools. It looked like he was starting to live the “good life” – something he’d certainly earned with his service.
He recently even “retired” from his blog, musing that his life was no longer “as interesting” as it had been and he didn’t have much to write about. He was happy, was going to travel and, other than grad school, seemed uncertain what was next in his life.
Well, that changed recently. Immediately after the news of the terrible earthquake devastation in Haiti spread, Jake sprang to action. He organized a quick response team of former Marines, fire fighters, doctors and others – and at last count raised over $15,000 in donations (more is coming in), donations of thousands of dollars in medical supplies and is already on the ground in Haiti providing care to the people so badly hurt in the earthquake.
As a follower of Jake’s writings, I had no choice but to respond when a note went out on Jake’s Facebook page looking for someone to ferry a bunch of medical supplies up to Milwaukee late this past Friday night, in order that the supplies could go with members of his team leaving from Milwaukee’s Mitchell Field early the following morning for the Dominican Republic.
Driving up, my thoughts were with this young man, who continually does so much and can marshal such a following with his words and deeds. I was following his lead – following the lead of someone 20 years younger that I met one time – with the only regret that joining his team down in Haiti was not a possibility (and, really, there’s little need for a lawyer down there, right?)
In any event, Jake’s a leader in the true sense of the word. I’m happy to follow his lead and help where possible. He’s someone I dare say is “too good” for politics, but someone I would vote for in a minute.
Anyway, Jake needs our help now. Despite the great contributions he’s collected to date, many on his team are financing their travel, rescue efforts and supplies with their own credit cards. They’ve been in Haiti for two days now, and are doing good works while military and other mainline relief services are still getting their people organized and into the country. Medical care has been provided to some very seriously hurt people and they’ve actually been tasked with scouting staging locations for active Special Forces troops being sent to Haiti to assist with the recovery. Once again, Jake’s leading the way – think about that, an ad hoc team he set up is scouting locations for our active military!
Whether you can forward a few bucks or not, I highly suggest you follow Jake. His life is unfolding like an amazing story. Where the story goes, I haven’t a clue – but I expect big things. I truly expect some day I will be proudly telling people “I knew him when.” Heck, I’m doing it now, and I’m proud to make the introduction.
To contribute, go to Jake’s Blog – or send your payment via PayPal to email@example.com.
[UPDATE 1/20/10: The media’s starting to recognize Jake and his team’s good work. Here’s a couple videos from KABC-Los Angeles: