By Lance Cpl. David Staten, Defense Media Activity
As Jacob and David were walking into a 7-Eleven, a homeless man approached them begging for money. Jacob reached into his pocket, pulled out a five-dollar bill and gave it to the homeless man. When the man reached for it, Jacob maintained a tight grasp. The man suddenly turned and looked up at Jacob, holding the bill tightly.
Jacob looked him right in the eye and said, “I want you to know you’re worth it.”
As the homeless man walked toward the convenience store, he turned back and with an astonished look on his face said, “What did you say?”
Jacob pulled up his pant leg and revealed his prosthetic leg and said, “I want you to know what I did for this country is for you. You’re worth it, and you’re worth that money.”
“Life is about those 7-Eleven moments and you may never know the outcome but that’s not why you do it,” said David Vobora, founder of Adaptive Training Foundation.
Every day, 22 veterans commit suicide. To help awareness and prevention of suicide, Cpl. Jacob Schick (ret.) told his story about his life and the help he received to that prevented him from committing suicide.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY
Schick grew up in Bossier City, Louisiana. He lived there until he was 12 and then moved to Texas. Around the age of eight, he knew that he wanted to be a Marine.
His grandfather was a Marine in World War II. His grandmother told him all the stories about his grandfather and it was a heavy influence on him. Jacob’s uncle was a 2nd generation Marine, following in the footsteps of Jacob’s grandfather.
“I knew at a very young age that I was going to be a Marine,” said Schick.
Schick’s grandfather and uncle both left the Marine Corps as corporals. He decided early on that he needed to raise the bar. His plan was to become a mustang, which is a Marine officer who was once enlisted.
Jacob signed up to enlist at the beginning of his senior year of high school in 2000 as a reservist. He went to boot camp a month after the 9/11 attacks.
“I knew day one when I stepped on the yellow footprints that I was destined to be here at this moment in time,” said Schick.
After boot camp, he went to the School of Infantry (West) Camp Pendleton, California, where he was trained as a rifleman. Schick said he thoroughly enjoyed it and is still in touch with Marines from recruit training and SOI.
Schick later reported to 1st battalion, 23rd Marines, and deployed to Iraq in 2004.
Before deployment, Schick thought he knew what teamwork and the “one team, one fight” concept was all about, but he learned quickly he didn’t. He fully grasped the idea through brotherhood, sacrifice and suffering during his deployment in Iraq.
“The fact is, when we’re at our highest high we’re together, and when we’re at our lowest low it’s together,” said Schick. “We did it as a family as one unit. So I learned that I could depend on the Marine to my left and right no matter what.
“No matter what circumstance may arise, they are willing to die for me and I am willing to die for them,” Schick added. “I think it goes without saying that is what makes us the best in the world.”
Early in the morning Schick’s unit had gotten a reaction call. The night previously they had captured two hostages and had a stand off that lasted well into the night.
His Marines had been sleeping for a half hour and Schick himself hadn’t gotten any sleep, when they got the reaction call.
Schick went to where his Marines were sleeping and not quietly, but like a Marine yelled and told them to get up and get ready because they had a mission.
Schick sensed that he needed to get a bomb blanket, so he got it and went over to the lead vehicle. He told the driver to scoot over and that he was going to drive. He put the bomb blanket down and had all his Marines put on there goggles, button up their neck protectors, groin protectors and made sure their flak jackets were buttoned up before heading out.
“I had a gut feeling, and I knew we were about to get hit,” said Schick. “I was trying to do everything I could do to make sure they were okay and to make me not be a liar to nine Marines’ families.”
About three minutes later, they hit a triple-stacked tank mine. The front tire hit the improvised explosive device and Jacob blew 30 feet through the top of the vehicle. He never lost consciousness or went into shock, so he remembers everything.
His Marines started yelling his name and immediately got to him. His lungs were collapsed; he had multiple fractures in his left leg and arm, ligament and bone loss, and burns and holes in his left hand and arm.
It was 42 minutes until a Black Hawk helicopter arrived. During that time, Schick asked God to please not let his Marines see him die.
The Black Hawk took him to the medical tents and he was put to sleep. He woke up in recovery and his right foot had been amputated.
They flew him to a medical facility in Germany and then to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he was finally able to see his family.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’m so relieved to be back in my country and so happy to be able to see my family again,’” said Schick. “At that point in time, little did I know that my true war was about to begin.”
It was going to be an epic battle from within that Jacob was about to embark on.
After spending three months in Bethesda, Schick was sent to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, where he spent the next 15 months.
Throughout his time in rehabilitation, Schick underwent 46 operations, 23 blood transfusions and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
“Physical wounds are one thing, but these are the wounds that keep giving if you don’t address them,” Schick said.
THE ROAD OF HEALING
“Physical pain reminds you that you are alive, but mental pain will test your will to stay that way,” said Schick.
Schick learned the hard way that he couldn’t deal with his anguish alone.
Schick suffered from pain mixed with guilt, anger and regret and it made him very bitter.
Schick was angry with the enemy but more at him because the guys he loved more than life itself were still in harms way while he was disabled and dependent on an oxygen tank in a hospital bed.
His dreams were crushed and he couldn’t help his Marines overseas fighting the war. Schick felt like he was hopeless.
Over 90 percent of people who commit suicide have a mental illness at the time of their death. The most common mental illness is depression and if left untreated may lead to suicide. Along with depression, many times people who die by suicide have an alcohol or substance abuse problem.
Schick was hurting both physically and mentally. He was fighting day to day. Not long before Schick left San Antonio in 2006, depression set in.
He masked his depression through painkillers.
Schick was at a breaking point. He was tired of fighting. His soul was broken. He didn’t answer phone calls, didn’t talk to anyone including his doctor at the hospital. He started to increase doses of pills until he would pass out and continued the cycle for about three or four days.
“At that point I didn’t care if I died or not,“ Schick said.
Schick’s fiancée at the time, who he met at the hospital, called his aunt. His aunt flew to San Antonio to intervene and help him.
With his aunt’s help Schick didn’t commit suicide, but he continued to abuse painkillers until late 2008.
He remembers his wife telling him, “The difference between you eating a bullet or living the way you’re living now is time but the outcome is the same. You’re slowly killing yourself.”
That verbal confrontation was all he needed. Schick realized that he was not doing his Marines justice by the way he was living.
He called his doctor in San Antonio and told him he wanted to quit taking the medication. They started slowly weaning him off the drugs.
“I don’t know what was worst, being blown up or coming off the drugs,“ Schick said. “During that time when I was ultimately trying to better myself, I went through the hardest time. I’ve never been that ill in my life.”
During that time, Schick contemplated suicide and told God that he was done. A couple of weeks later though, Schick had detoxed to the point where he felt like he had never taken drugs before.
“I knew I was ready to go,“ Schick said. “I had won but it was hell getting there.”
Healing is a constant process that’s never ending, according to Schick.
On Schick’s road to recovery and healing, his faith, family and friends were a big factor.
“I had a lot of yelling matches with God and lost everyone one of them,“ said Schick. “It was good having something to hold onto something much bigger than myself.”
Even now, Schick thinks of the Marines he served with, the service members who have died and the veterans.
“For the warriors that can’t hug their son, daughter, wife, husband, brother sister, or mom or dad again, I owe it to them,“ Schick said. “I owe it to them to live a magnificent life.”
For many who have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury or any other forms of a mental impairment from bad experiences, it’s hard for them to talk about.
Schick struggled with this for a long time. To him, talking about mental issues was not something he and many service members did as warriors. It took a while for Schick to dismiss those notions.
“It takes more of a warrior to talk about mental issues than it does anything else,” Schick said. “A true warrior doesn’t mind being vulnerable because he or she will share his or her scars to better their brethren. That’s what warriors do.”
Schick’s grandmother took him to her rotary club to speak about his experience. He answered their questions and for him it was really difficult. After he was done, he went outside and acknowledged that he felt better. He was very thankful to his grandmother for bringing him there.
“I learned that telling my story was a way for me to heal and that was a life changing step for me,” Schick said. “I knew I was truly healing and truly starting to make strides in my mental well-being when I started helping my fellow warriors.”
Schick uses the terms “soul bleeder” and “soul feeder,” describing a soul bleeder as someone that you can’t be around and always brings a negative energy to things and a soul feeder as someone who is positive and makes you want to do better and be more than you are.
Schick started to surround himself with positive people and learned that by being around them made him greater, as they encouraged him to do better and go outside his comfort zone.
“I no longer wanted to be a ‘soul bleeder’, so I was able to have a lot of amazing people around me,” Schick said. “They showed me if you’re down on you’re luck and you’re feeling really down about your current situation go help someone for no reason and expect nothing in return.”
One of Schick close friends is David Vobora, founder of Adaptive Training Foundation. Schick not only participated in the nine-week program ATF has, which uses modified training to empower athletes after the rehabilitation process, but is also a board member.
Adaptive Training Foundation was founded to provide individuals with physical impairments the proper facility and training necessary to achieve their health goals. The foundation aims to restore hope through movement to those with physical impairment and is committed to making the program 100 percent free.
Schick is also an advisory board member for 22kill, an organization that honors those who serve. The organization helps promote awareness of suicide prevention and veterans in general, and empower veterans globally by supporting the readily available programs and services local to them.
Advocates of 22Kill wear honor rings on their trigger finger. Wearing an honor ring displays their commitment to research and learn about their local veteran service organizations and what their missions and needs are, focus on veteran strengths and challenge negative attitudes around veteran “issues”.
An advocate should also advocate for veterans in a positive light in any platform they have, raise awareness to the issues of veteran suicide, and follow up with a positive solution through education and empowerment through programs offered from local nonprofits and veteran service organization and lastly believing that veterans are America’s greatest assets and learning to love them unconditionally.
Schick now works at the Center for BrainHealth, helping his fellow warriors. He lives in Texas with his wife and family. He lives day by day fighting and conquering his wounds.
“To stay positive, if I wake up and look in the mirror I get to decide everyday if I’m going to beat my enemy that day,” Schick said. “I refuse to let them win. When you’re motivated to win a lot of good things come with that. I’ve been able to get the power of positive thinking to help a lot of people.
“Through all my trials and tribulation I’ve learned from controversy comes character, but which way you take that character is entirely up to you,” said Schick. “You can take the high road or the low road. Without question this life is worth living. You get one shot, [so] make the most of it. It gets better. You’re going to make it. You don’t have to suffer alone.”