Combat comes in lots of flavors. For the majority of our troops deployed overseas, “combat” will consist of spending their deployment on a large military base performing support functions or pulling guard duty along the base’s perimeter. Combat” is mostly boring.
A small percentage of our troops will bear the assignment of closing with and destroying our nation’s enemies on the field of battle through fire and maneuver. These are the soldiers who incur the majority of the risks and make the majority of the sacrifices. Rarely are they the ones beating their chests about where they’ve been or what they’ve done.
I had the opportunity to get to know one of the sniper community’s most admirable members this year. I wanted to take a moment to tell our readers about him. I met Jonathon Blank on an elk hunt sponsored by LaRue Tactical last October. Jonathon lost both legs in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan, during a battle with the Taliban. His unit came under intense fire and sought cover in a nearby compound. The Marines knew that many of the compounds were booby- trapped and were being as careful as the situation allowed. Jonathon stepped on an IED buried in the floor. The blast knocked him unconscious.
It is a miracle that Jonathon’s teammates were able to keep him alive. But Jonathon survived and spent the next year in a hospital recovering before I met him in the mountains of northwestern Colorado.
Everyone on the hunt spent the days scouring the mountains for elk and the nights gathered in an old weather-beaten cabin, eating chow and telling lies. Over the course of our time in camp, I developed a profound respect for Jonathon, not only for the sacrifice he’d made, but also for the man he is and how he’s handling his loss.
Jonathon joined the Marine Corps when he was 18. He volunteered for the Basic Reconnaissance Course (BRC) and Scout Sniper Basic Course (SSBC) at the first opportunity. BRC and SSBC are two of the three hardest schools the Marine Corps runs; Jonathon completed both.
As his enlistment came to an end, he volunteered to extend his term so that he could deploy with his teammates to Afghanistan. “I couldn’t go through all of this training with them and then leave when it came time to deploy,” he said. “What if they needed me?”
Some of us volunteered for combat because we wanted to find out what it was like, how we would handle it. This is adventuresome and somewhat selfish, but it’s still admirable. Jonathon went because he was worried that he wouldn’t be there for his friends when they needed him. There is no purer form of service.
Like combat, soldiers and Marines also come in lots of different flavors. Jonathon is the kind of Marine who, even after losing his legs, is still driven, Instead of withdrawing from those who care about him and focusing on what he’s lost, he puts his heart and soul into his rehab and occasionally goes elk hunting. It’s easy to perform when life is being generous; if you want to know what a person’s true nature is, watch how he handles a severe crisis. The way Jonathon is handling his crisis is a lesson for us all.
Jonathon’s service gives him the status among those select few who chose to earn their position within the ranks of the elite and succeeded. Twice. Along the way, he experienced the suspense of a predawn raid on an enemy encampment and the thrill that accompanies the sound of gunfire in the dark, visited foreign lands, defended the weak and became part of a family of warriors that will always respect him and to which he will always belong.
Jonathon’s service also required him to place a substantial sacrifice on the altar of freedom. But with that sacrifice and his determination to keep on living, he has earned the respect and admiration of a brotherhood of men who may never fully understand the scope of what he lost, but admire and envy him for his strength and perseverance.
Serving in combat exacts a heavy toll. Along the way we bury teammates, some of us lose limbs and some of us die. Those who survive know what it was like to stand in the company of brave and talented men and know that their place is among them. Forever.