When Marine sniper Jake Wood arrived in the States after two bloody tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he wasn’t leaving the war behind him–far from it. Ten years after returning home, Jake’s unit lost more men to suicide than to enemy hands overseas. He watched in horror as his best friend and fellow Marine, Clay Hunt, plunged into depression upon returning, stripped of his purpose, community, and sense of identity. Despite Jake’s attempts to intervene, Clay died by suicide, alone.
Reeling, Jake remembered how only one thing had given Clay a measure of hope: joining him in Haiti on a ragtag mission to save lives immediately following the 2010 earthquake. His military training had rendered him unusually effective in high-stakes situations. What if there was a way to help stricken communities while providing a new mission to veterans?
In this inspiring memoir, Jake recounts how, over the past 10 years, he and his team have recruited over 130,000 volunteers to his disaster response organization Team Rubicon. Racing against the clock, these veterans battle hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, pandemics, and civil wars, while rediscovering their life’s purpose along the way.
Once a Warrior provides a gut-wrenching account of the true cost of our Forever Wars–and more importantly, a glimpse of what might become of America’s next greatest generation.
Congrats on your new book “Once a Warrior” Can you tell me a little bit about it
“Once A Warrior” is my memoir of going to war, coming home, and finding a new purpose in life by committing to a life of service. It follows my time as a scout sniper in the Marine Corps from 2005-2009 on two bloody tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s an authentic look inside the mind of a young Marine as he experiences combat and grapples with a poorly defined mission overseas. The middle of the book is the raw retelling of my experience transitioning home, during which I lost my best friend and sniper partner, Clay Hunt, to suicide. Finally, in the aftermath of Clay’s death, “Once A Warrior” takes readers through the inspiring journey of building Team Rubicon into one of the country’s pre-eminent nonprofit organizations. Readers are taken front and center to some of the decade’s most devastating disasters and meet Team Rubicon’s volunteers and each storm’s survivors along the way.
What experience caused you to see a need for your book?
I believe we are in a fight for the narrative that will define this generation of veterans. I refuse to allow the narrative of the broken man or woman, haunted by their experience to prevail. Instead, I’m convinced that if we tell this generation of veterans that they are the foundation upon which the future of this country will be built that they’ll rise to that challenge.
How has writing helped you personally? And changed the way you think?
Writing this book forced me to really reconcile with my experiences overseas. It was so much more than simply recounting my time in combat. In order to write a book that truly mattered, I had to process those experiences and how, a decade later, they have helped shape who I am – as an American and as a humanitarian. There was nowhere to hide on the pages.
Is there anything that you had to Edit OUT of the book that you wished was kept in?
The old adage held true that the hardest part of the writing process is the editing. So many of the stories I wanted to share ended up on the cutting room floor. At first, it seemed impossible to distill two brutal combat tours down to four chapters, and literally hundreds of disaster responses down to seven or eight. But in the end, I think readers have found “Once A Warrior” to be fast-paced, while still remaining rich in its storytelling power.
What lessons can a Junior Officer take from your book?
Your NCOs (which I was one) are your greatest resource. Trust them. Empower them. They are capable of far more than you can ever imagine.
This year the class of 2020 earned their commission and heads to their first command. What specific recommendations do you have for them as they embark on this lifetime of leadership?
Never stop learning. The leader I was before the Marines was radically transformed by my four years in the Corps. The leader I am today has been radically transformed by entrepreneurship. Every day I open myself up to learning – from my experiences, from my team, and from myself. Never for a moment believe that you can afford to become complacent on your leadership journey.
Why is reading important for our Military and/or the Nation?
There is no scenario you will face that has not been navigated by some leader, on some continent, in some conflict. You have a moral obligation to learn these lessons in advance of your own moment.
Give us three “Good to Know” facts about you.
I’m terrified of sharks and open water.
I went from a “Marksman” in boot camp (the lowest rifle qualification) to graduating #1 in my class at Sniper School.
My proposal for “Once A Warrior” was rejected over 30 times five years ago before receiving numerous competing offers when I sold it.
Tell me a little bit about “Team Rubicon”
Team Rubicon is one of the fastest-growing nonprofits in America. Since 2010, the organization has scaled to over 130,000 volunteers across the US and Canada, and raised over $250 million for its work. At its core, TR recruits, trains, and deploys military veterans for disaster response and humanitarian relief work. It aims to leverage the skill and experience of those veterans to deliver aid faster and more efficiently.
Purchase “Once A Warrior” Here
Jake Wood co-founded Team Rubicon alongside William McNulty following the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and has served as its President & Chief Executive Officer since that time. Prior to Team Rubicon, Wood served in the Marine Corps as a Scout-Sniper, with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wood is a nationally recognized social entrepreneur and keynote speaker whose awards include being named a CNN Hero, the Heinz Award, Goldman Sachs’ 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs, The Grinnell Prize, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy Forty Under 40. Wood is a published author and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin. When not crisscrossing the country for TR on a 737, Jake and his wife like to disappear to destinations around the world. They’ve been to over 50 countries.
Jake Wood lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. When he’s not chasing the love of his life through the sand he is the CEO of Team Rubicon, a global nonprofit he co-founded in 2010. You can follow their adventures on Instagram.