Tom Brokaw, journalist and author of The Greatest Generation
"Jake Wood offers one of the most soaring definitions of service I've ever seen."
Maria Shriver, award-winning journalist and author of I've Been Thinking
From Marine sniper Jake Wood, a riveting memoir of leading over 100,000 veterans to a life of renewed service, volunteering to battle, hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, pandemics, and civil wars, and inspiring onlookers as their unique military training saved lives and rebuilt our country.
When Jake Wood arrived in the States after two grueling tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he watched his unit lose more men to suicide than to enemy hands overseas. Reeling, Jake looked for a way to direct their restlessness towards a new missionand put their formidable skills to good use. When an earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, Jake had his answer. He convinced several fellow veterans to join him on a ragtag mission to provide desperately needed aid. Despite the high stakes, they were able to untangle complex problems quickly and keep calm under pressure.
In this raw, adrenaline-filled narrative, Jake recounts, how, over the past 10 years, he's built the disaster response organization Team Rubicon, and seen the work provide a lifeline back to purpose for the heroes among us. Not only do these intrepid volunteers race against the clock to aid communities after Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Harvey, COVID-19, and hundreds of other disasters; they also fight for something just as importanteach other.
Once a Warrior provides a soaring look at what our veterans are capable ofand what might become of America's next greatest generation.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Crossing the Rubicon
I was halfway through Bolivia when my Marine buddy Tim called. “Charlie is dead,” he said, no context required. We’d gotten to know Charlie in sniper school. He was a special operations Marine, and I spent the majority of sniper school in awe of him. He was a machine, invincible. He died in an ambush, Tim said. I’d later learn that he’d been shot through his lung while rushing forward to save some wounded Afghan allies. He’d still managed to drag the Afghans to safety. Later, his Silver Star citation would state that he fought ferociously until his final breath. He was a warrior, after all, he’d always said. And what do warriors do if they don’t fight wars?
Charlie bled to death on some meaningless Afghanistan mountainside. Meanwhile, when I received the news, I was half a world away drinking pisco sours in the Andes, my Marine Corps uniform taken off for the last time three months prior. I felt a touch of shame.
My girlfriend Indra, who was with me, had never known Charlie, so she couldn’t join me in mourning. It was my first suspicion that, now no longer in the Marines, I’d forevermore be grieving alone. I wasn’t truly alone. Indra and I were fast in love, and back home in Iowa I had two supportive parents and three sisters. They were always there for me, eager to support in any way possible. But the reality was those people, who knew me better than anyone, no longer understood me. Iraq and Afghanistan had changed me.
I was one of the lucky ones. After four years of war, the tattoos on my shoulder and arm were the only scars of combat I bore. So many men I served with had come home with real scars. Scars that proved their commitment and sacrifice. Dozens came home in flag-draped coffins. Their sacrifice would never be in doubt. Had I done enough?
My decision to get out of the Marines was complicated. My deployments with the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment (2-7) to Iraq and Afghanistan were challenging, and our unit took some of the highest casualties of both wars in 2007 and 2008. I was proud of my service but became conflicted about our progress toward a mission I couldn’t easily define. The sense of urgency to go and fight our nation’s enemies in foreign lands waned as I found myself in firefights with disenfranchised youth as often as with radical ideologues. Nonetheless, my sense of duty compelled me to consider reenlisting and going back overseas. After some quiet reflection, I decided that I didn’t want war to define my life, and I chose to leave the Marine Corps on my own terms, rather than in a box escorted home on an empty cargo plane.
Though I knew I no longer wanted to be in the fight, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do next. I took the standardized test for graduate business school programs and scored well, so I applied to some top MBA programs with the hope that two years of school would give me time and space to figure things out. After finishing my applications and anxious to put Iraq and Afghanistan in my rearview mirror, I disappeared to South America with Indra. We crisscrossed the continent in planes, trains, and automobiles, immersing ourselves in history and culture. I relished not having to wonder if the foreign-speaking men and women smiling at me in restaurants were only being kind and generous because of the assault rifle strapped across my chest or the missile-laden jets I could call overhead. Yet the trip left me wondering if I was truly ready to become a civilian, especially after learning that Charlie was dead. Part of me missed having that rifle.
Back home in Los Angeles, I peeled off my damp gym clothes. I had the apartment to myself. Indra coanchored the morning news program at KABC Los Angeles and was a rising star in broadcast meteorology. Even as a young child, Indra knew she wanted to predict the weather and had spent her whole life in pursuit of that career. I admired her singular pursuit of that dream. I was twenty-seven years old and, no longer a Marine, totally unsure what to do with my life. Outwardly I projected confidence that after business school I would launch into a successful career, but inwardly I doubted I would ever find what Indra had: a job that felt like it was what I was put on this earth to do.
I turned on the TV and waited for the audio to come to life as I returned to the kitchen. Hunched over three frying eggs, I heard the first hint that my typical morning was about to take a turn.
“. . . officials here are stating that initial estimates are as many as ten thousand people may have been killed in last night’s earthquake, but a quick survey of the scene indicates that it could be many times more than that number . . .”
I slid the eggs onto a plate and moved over to the couch with a mug of coffee. Prior to going to bed the night before, I’d read headlines about an earthquake in Haiti—or was it Cuba?—but no journalists were yet on the ground to report with any accuracy. Now, as the sun was rising over California, I watched a reporter sweating amid a pile of rubble. He motioned to the devastation behind him and continued, “Experts estimate the earthquake was a magnitude 7.0, with an epicenter just outside the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.”
CNN began playing a shaky cell phone video. I took in the scene. Every building appeared to have had a 2,000-pound bomb dropped on it in an airstrike. Throngs of men, women, and children, their dark skin covered in chalky white powder, stumbled like zombies through the streets. They surged past the camera, desperate to get anywhere but where they were.
“. . . aid organizations throughout the world are mobilizing their response units, but sources say an effective response might take days . . .”
I watched and watched and watched. The images—eerily reminiscent of my wartime experiences—cracked my hardened exterior. My heart broke for every infant I saw being rushed away in a mother’s arms, and it broke again for every father I saw digging through rubble with his bare hands. There it was again, on channel after channel, along with instructions on how to text to donate. I looked at my phone, but felt so inadequate, so removed from the situation.
Chaos. Destruction. Hopelessness. It seemed . . . familiar. I reached for my phone and, clicking it on, noticed hours had passed. I looked at the eggs and coffee, untouched and long since cooled. I punched in the ten digits and waited. “. . . due to heavy call volume . . .” And then, finally, a voice.
“Yes, ma’am. My name is Jake Wood. I just got out of the Marine Corps after four years and two tours. I’d like to go with your organization to Port-au-Prince. I can help you with any number of things and you won’t have to babysit me. I’ve got all of the necessary equipment, my inoculations are up-to-date, and I can leave immediately.”
“Thank you, sir, but we’re not taking any volunteers right now. If I may direct you to our website, where you can make a donation . . .”
I hung up in despair. I should do something. I must do something.
 “Haiti in Ruins: A Look Back at the 2010 Earthquake,” NPR, January 12, 2020, www.npr.org/sections/pictureshow/2020/01/12/794939899/haiti-in-ruins-a-look-back-at-the-2010-earthquake.