By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Navy corpsman Petty Officer Daniel "Doc" Jacobs surveys his supply of medications to restock the medic bags for his 14 junior corpsmen who care for five companies of Marines attending the school of infantry at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Jacobs is a seriously wounded warrior who chose to stay on active duty despite his injuries. DoD photo by Fred W. Baker III Hi-Res
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., Nov. 1, 2008 — Navy Corpsman Daniel "Doc" Jacobs didn't know he suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. But he knew he had a problem.
"I actually almost ended up killing myself because of it," Jacobs said.
He woke up one morning in late 2006 in a pool of his own urine and sweat after mixing his prescription medications with alcohol. He had blacked out and remembered nothing after the first couple of beers, Jacobs said.
Jacobs turned 21 that year and was recovering from the blast of a roadside bomb in Iraq and still was using a wheelchair. After his left leg was amputated, Jacobs said he started having a lot of pain. He had problems sleeping for several months, and when he did sleep, it was fitful and he had nightmares.
"I fell into a stage of depression. I turned to alcohol," he said. "I figured if the pain meds weren't going to (make the pain go away), then alcohol would. So I self-medicated and one morning I woke up and I had no idea how I woke up out of that."
While Jacobs hadn't intentionally tried to kill himself, it served as a wake-up call, and marked the end of the pill-popping and boozing for him. He flushed his medication down the toilet.
"I said, 'Enough is enough.' I just had to quit it," Jacobs said. "I was like, 'I'm lucky to be alive, again. There is some purpose for me on this earth still, and I'm not going to let PTSD bring me down.' I didn't want to be another statistic."
Now, Jacobs has joined the growing numbers of servicemembers who have chosen to continue to serve despite their injuries.
These wounded warriors are hard to discern from the ranks of others. Often their prostheses are covered by combat boots and their scars by their uniforms. Their post-injury jobs vary, from returning to combat to serving as trainers. But all are driven to overcome their physical limitations by a common motivation - they are simply not ready to take off the uniform.
Choosing the Navy
Jacobs is the son of a career Navy man and the grandson of a Marine. As the war stormed in Iraq, Jacobs' dying grandfather asked him to promise not to join the Corps. At his bedside, Jacobs agreed.
But, after high school graduation in 2004, Jacobs said he was finished with school and wanted to join the military.
"I spent 12 years in school and I didn't want to spend any more time there," he said.
Because of the historic Army-Navy rivalry, Jacobs' dad wouldn't let him sign up as a soldier. His uncle, a Navy hospital corpsman, told Jacobs of the camaraderie he experienced in his work, so Jacobs signed up as a corpsman. The next year, after finishing Navy schooling that qualified him to deploy with the Marines, Jacobs was bound for combat.
"I ended up in Iraq in a Marine Corps uniform as a Navy corpsman and kept my promise to both family members," Jacobs said. "I really, really wanted to go. I put my name on the volunteer list three times. I guess the third time is the charm. My family thought I was crazy, and they were pretty mad that I went. But I really didn't care."
Jacobs deployed to the Sunni Triangle, a densely-populated region northwest of Baghdad, with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines out of Twentynine Palms, Calif. He spent his days on patrol, kicking in doors with the Marines, and tending to those who needed his care.
In February 2006, Jacobs' unit was more than six months into its deployment and slated to fly home in weeks.
The small group had just finished the first patrol of the morning and was heading back to the base, the team members joking with the Humvee driver.
"We were laughing, and just making fun of each other as we were driving back to base," Jacobs said. "The next thing I knew, I felt my body being lifted upward and hearing a loud, horrible sound."
The homemade bomb exploded underneath the driver, killing him.
Jacobs was sitting behind the driver.
Bomb fragments embedded themselves into his glasses and sheared fingers off his left hand. His left leg was shredded and his right leg was not much better.
As the dust cleared, Jacobs patted himself down, checking for injuries. His left leg was bleeding badly, and his right leg was bleeding less so. He snapped a field tourniquet on both and dragged himself to a safety vehicle for medical evacuation.