‘Facing Stigma’ with Jake Wood

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“When I was 7 or 8 years old, I was living in Europe because my dad decided to take a job in Austria. One weekend we went to a concentration camp that had been turned into a museum, so I was exposed to what real evil looked like at a young age. I can remember what the images looked like of the liberation that took place at the camp by Allied troops and that was really inspiring to me as a young boy. I think that really planted the seed for my thoughts of joining the military, but it really set in after the 9/11 attacks which happened during my freshman year of college. I was fortunate enough to play football at the University of Wisconsin and during my senior year, I really felt the urge to join after Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan. That was the moment where I said to myself, “It’s time to make the choice.” I went into a Marine recruiter’s office shortly after and walked out with a contract. I joined the infantry in the Marine Corps and didn’t really think long or hard about what else I might do. However, I found myself in a scout sniper platoon and had some good experiences with the sniper team when I was in Iraq for my first deployment. I was given the opportunity to come and try out for the sniper platoon and luckily I got accepted. After going to sniper school, I was deployed a second time to Afghanistan for eight months. I was part of a battalion that had suffered extensively from the suicide epidemic. It was to the point that unfortunately we were the subject of a New York Times cover story because of that very topic.

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I’ve seen a lot of men come back and struggle with the transition and it’s hard to watch. I think for many of them it has to do with stigma. Now I’m starting to see more people who used to not even believe in Post Traumatic Stress suddenly having this realization that it’s very real and it can be very dangerous. I think the military recognizes that it has an obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of its people, before, during, and after their time in service. I think what we’re seeing is a shift there and I think a big part of that shift is the destigmatization. It also helps to have organizations like Headstrong who are advocating for veterans to get the help and treatment they need and are able to complement the VA. I was fortunate enough to not deal with those challenges after I got out, but a lot of that had to do with the fact that I started Team Rubicon three months into my transition. I saw friends around me struggle and really try to cope with that loss of identity and I think that’s one of the things I appreciate most about what we are doing at Team Rubicon. I’m proud of the fact that when people talk about Team Rubicon, they talk about it with the same pride as when they speak about their branch of service. That means a lot to me because it means we’re building a culture that people want to be a part of and is helping them in return.”

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Healing the hidden wounds of war

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