I can't really imagine what it would be like to be entangled in parachute lines while swimming to save another person under torrential downpours and mountainous waves. I've felt the sensation of drowning once when I was caught in the undertow at a beach in Oceanside and right then I decided I'd never join a military branch that put me anywhere near the water. Now imagine that sensation of drowning but there's absolutely no room for panic. You are the calm force that's demanded in an incredibly tense, unforgiving situation. Not only do you not have room for trepidation in this position, you've come to accept this as one of your opportunities to utilize your greatest skill-set. You are one of the elite Navy Rescue Swimmers. Jacqueline Carrizosa was one of those swimmers, and the only woman of 19 men to make it through her class, when they started with 33 people .
I also won't surmise to know what it's like to be thrown from your bicycle after being slammed into by a truck going 65 miles per hour. I don't know the pain that comes with breaking your back in eight places and losing a heavily-lacerated kidney. The simple truth of it is, Jacqueline could've very easily died that night in California when she was vaulted from her bike onto hard, unforgiving pavement. I can imagine some of those same skills of perseverance that served her so well as a rescue swimmer, served her just as well in the back of the ambulance when she was fighting just to hang onto life's thin chord. To be honest, I didn't know who Jacqueline was until her accident. I watched as my Facebook stream was invaded with "well-wishes" and "#prayforbrojaq." I thought she was just another professional motocross rider who was injured in a biking accident. When I realized she was a veteran, I started to more thoroughly investigate the details.
The simple fact of the matter is that everyone has a "social media persona." It's not that all of us necessarily hide behind this version but in many instances, it's just the fact that social media only shows a small fraction of who we really are. It's an incredibly small window into our lives that's made to look like the real thing. Further investigations led me to a tatted-up adrenaline junkie, motocross riding, three gun competitor who'd proudly served in the United States Navy. She definitely had an edge to her that often comes with the territory of extreme sports, and an affinity for the hardest challenges.
The project's made me even more aware of the fact that social media personas aren't a clear definition of that person, though, so I knew there was probably another side of Jacqueline. I was right. There's also the Jacqueline that's an incredibly kind, light-hearted individual whose best friend is her Aussie Cattle Dog (Blue Heeler), Oda.
There's the Jacqueline that grew up in a home where running away was often the solution to getting away from her problems. There's a Jacqueline that was arrested multiple times before her senior year of high school and joined the Navy knowing it was the only way to escape her situation at home. Jac is one of those incredible examples of perseverance and an even better example of not bowing out due to your circumstances. I'll let her take it from here.
Why’d you join the Navy in the first place?
JC: I kind of joined the Navy to escape. My mom married this guy and I hated him. There was a lot of friction at home and bad things happening. I ran away from home a lot to get away from it. I saw the military as a way to get out of my situation. I thought to myself, “I need to do something different,” because I felt like I sucked and was useless as a human being for all of this to be happening to me. I joined and my first thought was, “I want to go to Afghanistan,” and I’d heard about the military helping with college so I knew it would give me a chance at that too. I didn’t have that opportunity before.
That was almost derailed because I got arrested right before boot camp. I actually got arrested in high school quite a few times (laughs). The last one put me in a juvenile center and my recruiter came and bailed me out. She wrote me the whole time I was going through boot camp too. I remember my recruiter bringing me outside the juvenile center and my mom and stepdad were there. She was like “Do you want to say ‘bye’ to them?” I was like, “Nope,” and we left for San Diego. I was very angry growing up but a lot of this was due to what was happening in my home.
How old were you joined and what units did you serve with?
JC: My job titles were “Gunner’s Mate” and “Rescue Swimmer,” so I actually held two job titles. I served on the Ronald Reagan which was an Aircraft Carrier and the DDG101 which was a Destroyer. I got to deal with everything from torpedoes, to missiles, to small arms. We went up to Camp Pendleton and trained Marines too. Before guys would head overseas we’d also take them through their train-up which involved a lot of shooting courses, shoot houses, and urban operations. That was fun. I was what you would call “Joe Navy” when I was in the military. I loved being in the Navy and was super into the job. I had a blast. I was in the G2 when I was on the Ronald Reagan which is a weapon’s unit. I’ve been to the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, Jebel-Ali, Kuwait, China, Thailand, Hawaii, Canada, Guam and a few other places in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
What was the hardest part of training to be a Rescue Swimmer?
JC: I had very little upper body strength so that was probably the toughest part of becoming a Rescue Swimmer. I played soccer my whole life and that doesn’t do too much for your upper body. I had to get used to pushing myself to new limits. One drill I remember very vividly was when they threw us under water into a tangled up parachute. I had to figure out how to get out of that which was awesome. It was really cool because it taught me to think and analyze more under stressful situations. If you freak out, you know you’re done and you won’t get out, so I didn’t consider that an option. I knew that the only way out was staying calm which is like a lot of things in life.
What was it like going out to sea for the first time?
JC: Going out to sea for the first time was super cool. I finished both my Surface Warfare and Air Warfare quals immediately and that made some people kind of mad (laughs). They might’ve been a little jealous that I got through them so quickly. It was a good thing though because it gave me confidence and showed me I was going to be good at it.
What do you remember about your accident?
JC: I remember the moments before my accident really well actually. That night was very eerie to me, and in a way, spiritually distinct. I remember just a few minutes before I’d seen a cop car flipped over. The cop had tried to pull a quick u-turn and they flipped. I thought to myself, “Huh, that’s kind of weird.” There was a full moon too. I do like thirty-mile bicycle rides a day and I remember hitting the turnaround spot on my ride. I changed the music over to this song “Gasoline,” by Halsey and I love that song. I remember looking back and there was nobody there.
Then I remember screaming in the ambulance. My mom drove to see me immediately at the hospital. I briefly remember being in the surgery room but only flashes of that. There were two days though that I didn’t remember in the hospital. The third day, they took this object out of my groin (femoral artery) and it hurt so badly. I remember they had to punch me in the groin to get it to shut. The nurse was like, “This is going to suck (laughs).” The aftermath of that accident was eight broken bones (one compression) in the spine, the loss of one of my kidneys, busted teeth, broken facial bones, a swollen body, severe blood bacterial infections, fluid in the lungs and fierce road rash.
What was it like growing up and was it hard coming out of your environment to get to where you are now?
JC: I love helping out the youth now because I wish I’d had a role model as a kid. I wish I’d had someone telling me it was okay or not okay to do certain things, and I never had that. That would have helped me see a bigger picture, learn professional qualities and responsibilities as a kid to maximize my youth. I needed those life lessons and I had to learn those more by rebelling and getting in trouble with other authorities.
How did the Navy help you make a change?
JC: The Navy really helped me with stability and doing the right thing for the bigger picture. I could excel at certain things and place my energy into positive things. When I became a Rescue Swimmer, training was such a stress relief for me. The whole thing of coming from an environment where I wasn’t really doing anyone any good and then to a place where I could save people, was an amazing transition. That was fucking awesome. I had this new purpose in life that made me really feel so valuable and I knew for once I was on the right path. My past meant nothing in the military and people gave me a new kind of respect I’d never had growing up.
What was the hardest part of getting out of the Navy and reintegrating into a civilian lifestyle?
JC: It was hard finding a purpose when I got out. I needed to find something I was passionate about again. I started school to be a Veterinarian and I got my Degree with an overall 3.9 GPA. When I was in those classes, some of the people that were passing made me feel less passionate about doing it. I love animals but they want you to know so much and get paid so little. When you’re a Veterinarian, that’s your life. My internship actually wanted to hire me but the pay was so little that I wouldn’t have even been able to take care of my bills. I’ve found that by following my passions I’ve been much happier and more successful, even though I work a lot and sometimes harder in different ways.
Talk about the battle against terrorism and why it’s such a complicated dynamic, as compared to other wars.
JC: The battle against terror is so complicated because you don’t know the enemy. From my standpoint, they’re all kind of the enemy. I’m sure you’ve read some of the Koran but they have some ideologies in that book where even the ‘good people’ will never go against the “radicals.” Since we are on the topic of religion, I believe in God of course, but I’m not forceful in pushing it on others. I think if your religion is okay with killing others, your beliefs have a major issue. I think quite possibly the only way to save those cultures is to extract those that are 6-8 years old and younger and demolish the rest of them. Wipe them out. It’s almost like fighting pit bulls. You can’t put in a good pit bull and expect it to live in the ring of bad ones. That dog is definitely going to die or he’s going to turn. I know people will disagree with me on this but I don’t care.
By sending good people in there to negotiate, you’re not solving the problem because that culture doesn’t care. They’ll destroy that negotiator. The whole hearts and minds thing is a bad idea. Look at Britain receding from the United Nations. Much of that was about being independent so they didn’t have to let all of the refugees into Britain. France and Germany already did that and their crime went through the roof. That’s not being racist. It’s just the truth of what’s going on in those countries, solid statistics. We need to open our eyes and see that most of these people hate freedom. They hate literally everything that our men and women have died for. It’s such crazy thinking to believe we can work with them on these issues. They so strongly believe in this idea of the Koran and killing to get to heaven by sacrificing tons of innocent people. They’d kill you and your six-year-old daughter. These people need to save themselves as well. Instead of running away from a country they created, they need to work on saving their homeland.
If you could tell a civilian one thing about yourself to change the perception about being a veteran what would you tell them?
JC: If I could tell a civilian one thing about veterans it’s that we’re probably the most diverse people you could ever meet. Our whole identity is based on being adaptable and fitting into different situations. You have to have a spine to serve because you’re standing up for an entire way of life. You may not even like doing that particular thing you’re told to do, but you realize it’s for the bigger picture so you follow through and do it.
You’re obviously big into firearms and tactical training knowledge. Why are those things so important to you?
JC: There are various categories when it comes to guns and weapons training. There are certain categories of knowledge like game hunting, human hunting (war), and sport shooting. A hunter is going to be obviously very different than someone that shoots for USPSA or IPSC as a sports competitive shooter. The mentalities are going to be way different but there are some mutual desires that connect the communities. I feel like the second amendment is one of the best human rights a person can have and maintain. I’ve been so many other places where people are scared of their governments or other people in their country. They can’t really protect themselves and they don’t really have the right to protect themselves.
It’s a right we get to, and need to make sure we continue to, enjoy. We need to keep that right and not let others strip it away because of fear or lack of knowledge. I love shooting and I love the basic nature of it all. Even if it’s considered an “aggressive sport,” it’s one that I love. I love that it can bring me food, bring me a living, and give me the privilege of teaching others. It’s one of the greatest things in the world to teach someone that’s never held a gun before. Watching them overcome this fear is really cool. You can see that wave of anxiety disintegrate right in front of you when they first fire the gun which is really awesome.
What do you think about women in a combat role?
JC: I feel like the military invests a lot of money into training people. I think there definitely are some badass women that can make it through the training as it is now. The hardest part isn’t the training, even though that's super hard as it is. The more difficult part will always be the deployments, actual engagements, and the aftermaths of SQT. If we are going to have women in combat roles then we need to go ahead and fix women, and I say this in the loosest of all medical terminology (laughs), where we can’t have kids for the extent of our contract. I say that with all the respect in the world for women joining the military.
We face much bigger challenges when it comes to being in combat. How are you going to hide out or serve in a reconnaissance role while you’re on your period? And obviously there are other ways to control that but it’s not 100% effective. Then obviously there’s dealing with all of the hormonal issues we have on top of that. I don’t doubt that girls could make it through some very hard training, but there’s a mental side that goes into it too with deployments, all of the training, and being gone constantly. That’s what I think needs to be looked at the most. I think it would be harder for women to adjust to the post-effects of combat and the difficult deployments. It’s hard enough for men to do it. Our country is working hard on helping the men and women when they come back from war right now as it is.
I also believe we can’t just be shipping everyone off to a combat zone. Let’s say we get into a world conflict. Who’s going to be at home? There’s nothing wrong with being a warrior at home. You can train all you want and not have to be a warrior by going overseas. You can be that at home too. That ISIS militant that chopped that lady’s head off in Moore, Oklahoma. She got her head cut off with a knife in her own vehicle driver seat. It sounded like she panicked and froze like a "deer in the headlights. No offense to her but what do you think would’ve happened if she’d trained like a warrior? If that guy had come after me I would’ve been ecstatic to put him in the ground. I’ve trained for that. I just think that it takes a very special individual to be okay with killing people in a combat zone then to come back here and cheer on their kid at their baseball game, while not becoming a crazy person on the outside. I know a lot of women that are badasses but we have these maternal instincts we do not need to breed out of us. Those are strengths that I feel get treated as weaknesses in our culture.
So do you feel that the way the military is approaching the role of women in combat is a mistake?
JC: They’re going to send women into SEAL training but they’ve changed a lot of the requirements. You can’t do that. You’re making the training weaker for a terrible reason. They want to integrate females so they make the training easier? We preach equality all of the time but that’s not really equality. So across the board changing the requirements makes it easier for males to make it that quite honestly probably shouldn’t be SEALs. That’s pathetic. I don’t believe in being weaker than the enemy obviously, and these kinds of rule changes will take us there. Also, what happens if an operation goes badly and she’s captured?
These cultures we are fighting against are completely male dominated. That woman is going to get fucking raped in the worst way possible. Our enemy is going to be like, “You want to send a female at us? Cool, we’ll show you what we think of that.” They disrespect females to the greatest degree in those cultures so what do you think they’ll do if they capture us? It’ll happen. I promise. Then, of course, our guys are going to take extra risks to get that female back that they might not normally take with a male counterpart. That’s basic natural instincts with the male gender. These are major issues.
How did your time in service help you in motocross?
JC: My time in service put me at this level where when I ride and it’s pushing me to the physical limit, I can mentally overpower the suck factor. Quitting is never an option and my military service gave me that, as my life has as well. I’ve watched so many people quit in a race in my sport because of some tough obstacles, and that’s just never an option for me. Overcoming that obstacle just makes you better.
Veterans taking their own life is a huge topic of course. How do we combat that?
JC: All these suicides have led me to be more passionate about helping other veterans. I had three friends commit suicide within a few months of me coming back to the states. One of them I’ve known since high school. The first one I was super sad and the two after I was pissed off at. I was just so angry. I just thought, “How fucking selfish can you be?” I feel like a huge thing to do is to remind our veterans of how great they are. I did a huge video shoot for a company that paid me really well and I remember a question the videographer asked while being on set for that shoot.
The videographer was talking to me about my military experience and he was like, “Wow, so you were kind of the ‘shit’ when you were in the Navy.” He followed up with, “Is it weird to go from being a somebody and getting out and being a nobody?” I was really hurt when he said that but he was kind of right. I was rebuilding myself and rebranding myself. What I did in the military before was not going to work outside of the military. What I did when I was in didn’t translate into civilian society. Technically, civilians don’t understand any of our qualifications and its kind of null and void when applying for new places outside of that technical aspect. But, what the military gave me was the ability to constantly adapt and overcome situations. My job skills might not have translated, but my mental toughness was better than anyone else’s.
We need to remind veterans of that. When I was looking for a purpose when I first got out, alcohol was the best distraction from my problems. I had to redirect my energy. I want to see my fellow veterans become passionate about something or get nerdy about something they love that’s constructive. Look at all the veterans in our space owning businesses, making rifles, making custom knives, becoming artists, and athletes. All these things are reconstructive for the soul. It’s all about finding your talent within your passion. Being smart is a huge key and knowing that it won’t happen right away. You will have to work hard at it, just like anyone else.
What about the sport of motocross is so therapeutic for you?
JC: The challenge of motocross is what brought me into the moto world. I was looking for purpose when I got out of the Navy and motocross gave that back to me. It gave me something to strive towards. I was doing all kinds of things when I got out like triathlons and bodybuilding but they left me kind wanting more of a rush. I was getting pretty good at triathlons, running half marathons and more but I wasn’t getting anything out of it. I was going to start racing my street bike and I was about to buy leathers, but my boyfriend at the time rode dirt bikes. He was like, “No, no, trust me with the way you are you’ll like dirt bikes much more.” I went out and did my first dirt bike race and I was hooked.
I was looking for something as challenging as my rescue swimmer training and motocross gave me that. Once I started riding, I won two championships in my sport back-to-back and I was really enjoying myself. I stepped up a level and I was training for a 650-mile race when I got hurt. The physical challenge and the mental challenge of riding are really awesome. It’s awesome to be competing on this national level now where I’m getting my ass handed to me a lot from people who have ridden their entire lives. It’s awesome because it’s such an incredible challenge every race. I grow physically in skills and ambitious spiritually with every challenge, I learn from it.
When do you feel like you majorly impacted someone’s life or lives while you were in the military?
JC: Being an instructor was when I felt like I was doing the most good. That was really satisfying. I remember people being really upset when I got out because things went downhill which actually felt pretty relieving. It made me realize that I was a good leader and I’d done my job the right way. I’m also very proud of making it through the Rescue Swimmer course. We started with 33 and 19 made it through. I was the only girl to make it and some of the guys I graduated with told me they didn’t quit because of me. That was pretty rad. I knew there was no way I’d quit when we were going through the school. I had to make it because I knew it would be the raddest thing I’d ever done in my life.
Did you feel detached when you left the Navy?
JC: I felt older than everyone else when I got out of the Navy. People my age didn’t have my experience and I definitely felt that. I’ve always felt like people take life for granted. I felt that way even before the Navy, but even more so after. I wish I could step outside of those feelings sometimes and just enjoy moments; but I get so angry when I see people that are ungrateful for awesome experiences. It bugs me so badly. I remember being in college after the Navy and listening to kids complaining about the dumbest things like they didn’t get the model of phone they asked their parents for. I just thought to myself, “You ungrateful little shits (laughs).”
How do we build a bridge between the communities between civilians and veterans?
JC: We really just need to talk to each other. I think we both have our misconceptions about each other as communities. We are all human. Yeah, we have differences but that’s okay. This whole 22 pushup thing that we saw for awhile was cool and it got some civilians thinking about helping. The problem is that it's just “awareness” which only fixes things if you actually do something about it. On the other side of that, at least it got people thinking about the issue. Communication is so important and actually showing each other you care. Raising funds, creating shelters for homeless vets, jobs, and funding education is going to be the best thing to help veterans.
What do you think about the hero mantra?
JC: I think we do what’s necessary. I don’t know about us being characterized as superheroes but I definitely believe we are fighting a necessary battle. There’s evil out there and somebody has to fight against it. What we do for our country, makes everyone else in the world see us as a Utopia. We solve everyone else’s problems and that keeps the battle from reaching our front doors at home, which is obviously very important.
Who lifts you up on your bad days? Who’s your support team?
JC: I have a little book where I write down things that I’m grateful for. It usually helps me when I’m feeling really shitty. Recently I’ve done a lot more crying than I ever have because of what I lost with the accident. I usually bottle things up to myself. When I used to be really troubled, I would go to church and just pour out my soul to God. I have a few girlfriends I trust that I can talk to about things that are bothering me. Other than that, I usually don’t like to admit I’m feeling weak. Before this accident, I would have a hard time being around people when I was feeling bad. I would go lift or exercise and ignore the “normal human” side of me.
Can you talk about what you’ve got going on now and what you’re looking forward to now?
JC: My next goal is to buy a house with land. I’m “adulting” really hard on that right now. I’ve drawn a few series of shirts that are going to be made. I want to build my own little spot and work for myself. I still want to ride bikes, horses, and help others. I'm working on a lot of things to make my home better. I’ve also been starting on a few books. I still feel like I have a lot of life to live but that accident really made me think about my mortality (laughs). I really want to build some youth programs tied in with my church and fitness programming that talks about the importance of a self-loving image, in a non-narcissistic way, especially nowadays with how big social media is. Not giving in to social temptations is very important in the bigger picture. Your goals and dreams are bigger than individual temptations.
If you could tell your brothers and sisters from your units that are still in what would you tell them?
JC: Prep yourself before you get out of the military. Look for a career before you get out. Find your passion before you get out. Keep up with your physical exercise when you DO get out because when stress gets bad in the civilian world, it’ll be one of the best and easiest mental reliefs you can get. Thank the good Lord every chance you get, even on the bad days.
I think one of my favorite elements in the timing of my interview with Jacqueline was where she was at in life. Obviously, I wish she never had to go through the accident, but it left me with a look at her in a unique space of her life. I got to see her in circumstances where the future was extremely uncertain. She lost a lot in the crash and it didn't just have physical ramifications. However, through some of her vulnerabilities, I saw a great spirit of perseverance and unceasing strength. I witnessed probably the greatest manifestation of Jac's spirit, a woman that wouldn't quit no matter how close to death she came. It's easy to pretend to be strong, give off the persona of a "badass," and slap on some more ink because it makes you look more "moto." That's not Jacqueline Carrizosa and her response to a personal calamity that would've left many quitters lying in the wake, more than reinforced her outer show of authentic strength. We need more people in this world with that kind of resilience. I'd like to thank Jac for being a part of the project. Follow her on Instagram @brojaq, on Facebook Jacquelin Carrizosa, and Twitter @BroJAQ. I'd also like to thank Dr. David Sales (follow him on IG: @drdavidsales) for letting me come hang out in the office and thanks to Taran Butler (IG: @tarantactical) for letting me hang at the range.