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Veteran Spotlight: Spc. Jake Gaylord

By Wayne SoaresSpecial to iBerkshires
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Gaylord with colleagues in Afghanistan. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — It was an absolute pleasure to interview this week's Veterans Spotlight feature. Jacob "Jake" Gaylord served his country in the Army National Guard for six years as a specialist.
 
Growing up in Cheshire, he graduated from Hoosac Valley High School and enlisted at age 19, inspired to serve by the 9/11 terror attacks.
 
"I just walked right into the recruiter and signed up …. always wanted to serve my country," he said. "I remember watching the attack on the World Trade Center and it just fueled my fire to serve."
 
His basic training was done at Fort Leonard Wood, MO. 
 
"It was really an eye-opening experience," he said. "I came from a small community, I learned so much about everything
in the world ... everyone is equal and on the same playing field. It was a great experience for a young adult."
 
Gaylord deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan with the 379th Engineer Company for a post that put his life at risk every day.
 
"It was a totally different atmosphere," he said, noting his first night was stressful — his uncle had just passed away when he arrived and he was under fire.
 
His duty was the area removal of unexploded ordinance: joint direct attack munition (JDAM), 30mm round shells, land mines, anti-tank mines and toe poppers (5-6 pounds of Russian TNT that was designed to wound and not kill).
 
"We were out on a cleanup one day when one a guy hands me a butterfly mine … then tells me not to squeeze it because it's live," he said with a straight face. 
 
I asked about being away for the holidays and he didn't beat around the bush.
 
"Yeah, it was tough, tough on me, my family, my girlfriend who was to become my wife," he said. "When you serve, in any branch, there's a brotherhood though — a special bond with guys that is unbreakable. You know there's a light at the end of the tunnel ...
 
"That's what gets you through the difficult times."
 
Though Gaylord did not see any entertainment while in Afghanistan, he said the highlight of his deployment was a visit from President Obama. 
 
"We had an attack of frozen mortars the day before so there was very tight security," he said. "I was about 20 feet away from the president. It was something.
 
"When your commander-in-chief is there and telling you how much he appreciates you, man, it's so inspiring," he continued, clearly moved.
 
Gaylord also recalled an extremely bad memory — the worst attack on Bagram Air Base, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan. 
 
"We were taking out mines near the airfield and close by were 10-15 large containers of jet fuel," he remembered, when Taliban members attempted to breach the base. "It was a massive attack ... I saw the blast of a suicide bomber that grabbed an American citizen …. we were told to stand down. Apaches [helicopters] came in."
 
Upon his return home and discharge, Gaylord confessed that it wasn't easy. "It was really tough for me to adjust," he said. "Nights were the worst, that's when your mind tries to take over. Just eight months later, some of my best friends volunteered to go back ... They're my heroes."
 
He continues to serve his country and community as a correctional officer for the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office. In addition, he is a member of the Berkshire County Special Response Team, a correctional emergency response member and Western Mass coordinator for the Special Olympics. 
 
Spc. Jake Gaylord, thank you for your service to our great country.
 
Veteran Spotlight is a column by Wayne Soares that will run twice a month. Soares is a motivational speaker and comedian who has frequently entertained the troops overseas with the USO. To recommend a veteran for Soares' column, write to waynesoares1@gmail.com.
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