My best friend, Jake (or Kenny Toone as the rest of the world knows him) has made an appearance on my blog throughout the years. Him and I have a really unique relationship. Recently I was interviewed for a documentary about him and I was asked a question that I answered and then thought a lot about afterward. Jake and I were laughing and joking around when we first started filming and we were told to "act normal" and we were like, "this is our normal, we're always laughing and having fun when we're together". During the interview I was asked, "You say that you two are always laughing and joking together, but obviously you've been through some tough things together so that can't be true?".. My answer was that it is true. Even when we're crying we're laughing. We have that type of relationship.
I thought long and hard about this afterward. We aren't always laughing, in fact we have more serious in-depth talks than laugh-fests, but when I think of him I think of laughter, of having fun, of being able to be myself and him being able to be himself with no judgement and no brave fronts. Maybe that's what having a best friend means... Even though you go through a lot of hard things together, that's not what you think of. You don't dwell on the negative. The happy memories are what sticks out in your mind so when someone asks you about the nature of your relationship the good comes to mind first. Perhaps I didn't answer that question honestly by some standards, but it was the answer that came to my mind. We are happy when we are together.
Jake (I will never be able to call him Kenny) is part of something really great and important right now and I'm blessed to be able to take a small role as well. I thought it was important that he share some of his background in his own words and then I'll add my thoughts and feelings at the end. *content has been edited for spelling, grammar and language as Jake has dubbed me his "secretary"*
"In 2003 I went to war with Fox company 2/23 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. While in Iraq I was exposed to moral injury. I then began a journey that took everything from me. I wanted to stop existing. Then God saved me.
In 2003 America invaded Iraq. Along with my fellow devil dogs we went on a journey from Kuwait to Baghdad. We went through the furnace of combat to our breaking point. April 8, 2003. What happened to us that day was beyond what I could take. It cracked my soul in half. That was my moral injury. I knew there was no forgiveness. My values dictated that. Killing was a sin and the only way to pay for life taken is life given. I had to kill myself.
I began the poison of lies down a path was destroying me. It came to a head when after a bitter divorce and losing everything I had to live for I decided to end my life. But I did not want to die. I put two 357 mag hollow points in the eight round cylinder, put the gun to my heart and pulled the trigger. Then I pulled the trigger again . I dropped the gun and turned from God's laws altogether and said **** the world. It started to heal me. I did what was right not because God told me to but because it felt good.
I started down another path of distraction. I used drugs, alcohol and sex and I told anyone who would listen about how great life without God's laws were. There was no shame and no judging anyone who agreed with me, my atheist friends. But religion became a target. I hated the thing that caused me so much pain and hated that when I went to kill myself God would rather let me die than save me.
I was wrong. God was with me. I hurt people and I'm so sorry. I thought I was helping you see that you could be hurt by God and His rules. Look at all the fun I was having. This felt so good. How could it be wrong if it feels good. I started to take and take. I went from place to place and when I could take no more went to someplace else.
This pattern continued until I realized I was taking from my brothers. They were still killing themselves. I would have died for them in Iraq and I can't let them die now. I started to look at ways I could take care of myself so I could help them and I was going to go to school when Lu [Lobello] called. He told me he found them... the survivors from April 8, 2003... the Kachadoorians. I was invited to face the ones I hurt the most. I took everything from them. I owe them everything. I could not face them, but the stone was rolling in my head. Lu was able to get forgiveness so why not me?
I finally agreed. The day was filled with agony and relief... What if they condemn me? If they do then that could kill me. I was scared for my life, but if they forgive me what could that mean? I could forgive myself. I had no clue what would happen, whether I could get life or death. It did not matter cause everything dies. Death will always win so why not have faith in time to kill me when it's my time? I was able to become fearless because I did not believe in God.
They forgave me. It felt so good. I was on the moon. I was flying then I realized what I had to do. I had to find a way to help humans. I found the first traces of what would become Squadbay after talking to the family and experiencing love from the people that I had taken everything from."
I have known Jake/Kenny since 2009. The inner turmoil, moral injury, ptsd or whatever you're comfortable calling it he has faced as long as I've known him has been heartbreaking. I honestly never believed that he was an atheist. Knowing Jake and knowing who he was I KNEW that he knew there was a God and that God scared him. Accountability scared him. It's easier to deny something than to face up to what the reality means.
Him and I had many religious discussions over the years. During the times when he hated religion the very most it tore him up that he had a best friend who was a "Mormon girl" who didn't judge him or condemn him. He wanted to believe the very worst about Mormons, but I loved being able to prove him wrong again and again as I loved him even through his anger and doubt. I never turned him away and I never stopped believing that he would someday find his way to light and happiness.
He would preach about how amazing it was to live without God's laws and without guilt and rules and yet I would see the sadness and the hurt behind his loud words and brave front. I knew a different side of him. I knew he still had guilt. I knew he hated himself. I knew he had nightmares and flashbacks and panic attacks and that he wanted to die. He opened up to me about things he didn't tell other people.
There were still things he kept from me... things that he knew would hurt me. I knew he was suicidal and angry, but he would leave out details to spare my feelings. He has apologized for everything he kept from me and I have forgiven him. Even in his lowest hours he was trying to protect me.
One of the greatest phone calls I've ever received was the call that started with, "You were right!" Jake proceeded to tell me that there was a God and that he knew without a doubt that all the things I had born testimony of over the years are true. He had an incredible spiritual experience in which he received confirmation that God lives and loves His children. To hear the fire in my best friend's testimony and feel the love he had in his heart for God and for his fellow men was one of the greatest experiences I've been able to be a part of. I never doubted that he would know his loving Father in Heaven someday.
Squadbay is the good that has come from the bad these Marines have suffered. Their mission is: To provide humanitarian assistance by rapidly deploying combat veterans to the hardest hit regions of disaster relief areas. They are taking the skills and training and passion that these Marines have and sending them on deployments to build up those who need it, including themselves. They are giving vets the opportunity to feel like they're part of something again. They are able to join together as brothers and be a support system while doing what the good that they had hoped to do while in the Marines.
I am not going to speak out against the military or our country. I love the United States and I love the military and fully support it... I'm about as patriotic as they come, but the fact is that so many of the men and women who join the military end up broken. They are suffering and their families are suffering with them. Vets are committing suicide at an alarming rate. Instead of sitting around and feeling sorry for themselves and being angry for what they've been through the men who created Squadbay have decided to create solutions! I love solutions so much better than resentment and hate!
I see the good that Squadbay is already doing. They had some incredible experiences in the Philippines and I see the lives in the Philippines that have already been blessed by these men and the humanitarian missions that they were able to take. They sacrificed their own well being to lend their skills to those in need. I see the healing that has already started in the Marines who are a part of this cause. I am really grateful I'm able to be a part of Squadbay and lend my time and talents to help heal war-torn vets. I have no doubt in my mind that the mission of Squadbay will be successful and lives will be saved both on the home front and overseas. If you want to get involved, let me know! I would love to put you to work or depending on your skills and abilities put you in touch with the men who can put you to work! Feel free to email me or contact me on facebook.
If you want to learn more, please check out these sources:
Squadbay on Facebook
Lu Lobello's story in The New Yorker
Thank You for Your Service