The family of a Marine who lost his life on a final mission in war-torn Afghanistan has created a warrior retreat space to address military mental health issues and honor their son.
On August 26, 2021, a terrorist detonated a suicide bomb at Kabul airport, killing 13 US service members, including Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz.
“He was actually a bit shy, but everyone who spent time with him gravitated towards him because of his personality. Once he got to know you, it was gone,” said the father of Jared, Mark Schmitz. “I can’t tell you how many people called him his best friend because that’s how close they got to him very quickly.”
When he was a sophomore in high school, Jared began to seriously discuss enlisting in the military. The following year he was training to become a Marine and left shortly after graduating.
“He really found himself before he even went to training camp,” said his stepmother, Jaclyn Schmitz. “You could see so much personal growth in him, and he was so proud to go in that direction.”
“The knock at our door”
As the war in Afghanistan began to wind down, with the announcement of a day of withdrawal, Jared’s planned combat deployment was called off.
The Taliban quickly recaptured most of the country within weeks as US forces began their withdrawal. The panicked Afghans feared for their lives and rushed into the airport to try to evacuate.
Jared’s 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines unit was tasked with holding the line for humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan. When the bomb went off, Mark and Jaclyn weren’t worried. They had both spoken to Jared after a particularly long 96 hour shift, and Jared had told them that he and the guys would be on the airstrip next.
“Then there was a knock on our door at 2:40 a.m.,” Mark said.
Jared was killed alongside a Marine, a private, and 10 other Marines. Reports indicate that military leaders at the airport became aware of security concerns and a potential attack. Despite the risk, the rescue mission continued. Less than an hour after the brief, the suicide bomb exploded at Abbey Gate.
“It’s so insane. It didn’t need to happen and it shouldn’t have happened,” Mark said. “To me, I feel like there’s no end to this.”
But Mark said his Christian faith helped his family through their grief.
“It gave us the strength to get up every day,” he said. “Knowing that he is constantly around us. I see signs all the time.”
A clear mission
In the weeks following Jared’s death, the condolences and checks kept coming.
“It didn’t seem right. How could we accept this money from Jared’s death? We didn’t know what to do,” Jaclyn said. “The [were] so many mixed emotions at that time. But we knew we wanted to start a nonprofit, but we didn’t know what the mission was yet.”
By spending time with Jared’s fellow Marines, seeing some of their problems following the bombing, and hearing about several suicides within the battalion, the mission became clear.
The Freedom 13 was born out of a desire to provide sanctuary for American warriors, beginning with 2.5 acres of riverside property in their home state of Missouri. The nonprofit will provide troop housing, post-traumatic stress support, recreational retreats and service dogs, according to its website.
Although construction has yet to begin, plans are to create approximately 20 housing structures for veterans and their families.
“There will be a lot of camaraderie there,” Mark said. “Lots of guys who don’t know each other. A guy could be Navy, Coast Guard, Navy, whatever, sitting around the campfire, just sharing stories and hopefully leaning on top of each other.”
In February 2022, the nonprofit organization held its first fundraiser in honor of what would have been Jared’s 21st birthday. What started as a local event has spread across the country, with nearly 200 bars and pubs in 25 states participating.
“We’ve had so much support that we’ll do it every year. He’ll be 21 forever,” Mark said.
Creating the sanctuary space is just the beginning, they said. Both dream of offering similar retreats across the country. It’s a legacy they hope Jared would be proud of.
“The Freedom 13 is free and we want people to have that freedom to just check out for a week and restart,” Mark said. “Doing this nonprofit has, for me personally, been so therapeutic because it has given me a purpose. It gives me a reason to wake up every day beyond just taking care of my life. “a family, to go to work and do the things that I have to do. I do all of this and for the love of my son. It helps me to remember all the good and I just l feels like he’s still there.
The Freedom 13 will be free to all veterans and give them a chance to reboot, recharge, and build new relationships with veterans along the way. Visit www.thefreedom13.org to learn more about the mission.
Read the original article on MilitaryFamilies.com.
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