SFC(R) Jared Bullock (Army Special Operations, OIF, OEF Veteran)
Those who’ve served our country in the Global War on Terror as the tip of the spear, tend to see things a little differently than our main line units. That’s not to say it’s a better or worse way of seeing things, just more “business-as-usual” in the ideology and understanding of warfare. That attitude tends to lend itself to humor some may describe as being “dark” or slightly “fatalistic.” SFC(R) Jared Bullock is most certainly a purveyor of that ideology and subscriber to a very blunt (and hilarious) way of seeing the world. Throughout Bullock’s description of his injuries, you’ll read the account of a man whose matter-of-fact approach can be shocking to a culture that tends to search for deeper meaning and heroism in every military action. Not that this is wrong of our culture in any way, shape, or form. In a country where Vietnam was such a despised conflict that even our soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen were demonized by a significant swath of the population, we’re grateful for a culture that lifts up our deserving war-fighters. Men like Bullock just don’t see things the same way, and for that we should be just as glad. His blue-collar mentality and humorous approach is one of the things that made him so incredibly effective on the battlefield.
Jared isn’t going to dress things up for you or preach to some vision of grandeur and glory when it comes to his life. In that way, his articulation of his life is incredibly reminiscent of the old-school mentality of our WW2 veterans. His loss of arm and leg were approached in the same way he approached selection and the Q Course. Not only did he not treat his injuries as a catastrophic event, he took them on as a challenge in the same way a highly-esteemed mountaineer would treat climbing Everest, K2, or Annapurna. His brusque approach to life can be almost alarming to those who aren’t familiar to the world of Special Operations, but it’s a truly wonderful representation of what it means to be a warrior. We’ve already said enough, though. Here’s Jared.
Tell me about growing up and life as a kid and what led you to the Army.
JB: I had a pretty normal, boring childhood. I spent quite a bit of time on my grandfather’s farm working with the pigs and leaning what hard work really was. He was my greatest role model and an awesome dude. When I was 6 or 7 years old he would tell me to take the bucket of feed that was heavy and go feed the pigs. I would tell him the bucket was too heavy and he would just say, “Don’t spill any." (laughs) We would cut wood in the winter and I think that helped grow my work ethic tremendously. I also played sports growing up which was a very good thing. I never was into the drinking or the drug thing. It just wasn’t my fucking thing. I graduated high school and then went to college to be a teacher. College just wasn’t for me either. I had been in school for twelve years and I didn’t want to sit there any longer. My twin said, “I’m going to join the Army.” I replied, “Okay, let’s do it.” I did the 18 X-Ray thing and I wasn’t mature enough to handle the process. But when I joined the regular Army, I felt like it was just boring and straight up bullshit.
I remember it was ‘05 and we were in Ramadi at the battalion headquarters. We saw this guy walk in with no name tapes, pockets on the sleeves, and long hair. He said, “I’m looking for the lieutenant colonel.” The lieutenant at HQ (headquarters) told him the lieutenant colonel was busy but he could help him. The guy replied, “I didn’t fucking ask for you. I asked for him.” I thought to myself right then that this was what I needed to be (laughs). I did another tour and then made the jump to go to selection.
Can you talk about your time in 3rd ID and what is was like?
JB: The first deployment was in ‘05 and we started out with it being pretty chill in Iraq, with not too much going down. The 2-69 Armor Battalion got tasked with going to Ramadi and they absolutely needed a battalion to go out there, but they also wanted a company of infantrymen. We got volunteered to as a part of that deployment. We went out there and lived in our own little structure. It was a 3-story compound with the company living in there. It was good while we were there and we would go out on our own on missions. The IEDs were pretty bad out there and I remember when we first found a cache of them. We sat up at night watching the MSR and saw a convoy go by. You would hear them go down the road past the point of visibility and I remember seeing them and just hearing the explosion. It’s horrible to say but it was bad with the IEDs to the point where we got very used to it. We weren’t in the innermost part of Ramadi but on the outskirts. A platoon would rotate and go out to the OP there. The 2-69th got lit up going out there at one point. It was the first real taste for me and all I could think was, “Holy shit, this is real.” It wasn’t life shattering but definitely made things real.
The Bradleys would take out an entire house in the middle of nowhere. I hated riding in those fucking things but the fire power that they have is astounding. I was still just a “joe” and that’s what made me want out of the regular Army shit. We got back stateside and were split up into different units. I was put with 2-69 and was promoted to a corporal. We went on deployment and I had a really shitty squad leader because he was lazy. When we were in Ramadi taking pop shots and everyone was moving to cover to engage, he was hiding behind a wall. He wanted to know where we were going as we moved forward. We told him pretty definitively we were going to do our job (laughs). The second deployment I was an E5. One of the squad leaders rotated out and I ended up getting that position. I moved up pretty quick to become an E6. I had my own squad and we had a good platoon sergeant. He taught us things that we needed to actually know and hadn’t been taught previously. He taught us about route planning and having alternate routes. The way he taught us was hard but fair and I think his leadership was the best that I'd seen up until that point.
We were outside of Baghdad during this time and things were winding down around there. These deployments weren’t the ones where you come home with a bunch of war stories. The first IED I came into contact with just rattled me and there were guys we lost from another unit I didn’t know. I was writing the SF recruiter and asking what I needed to do to become Special Forces. When I came home I saw the recruiter and I started prepping for it. I went to selection and got put on staff duty every other day. I sat at the battalion headquarters a lot. My sergeant major, Sergeant Major Harrison, asked me one day what I was doing on staff duty all the time. I told him I went to selection and passed. He said, “Good for you. Get the fuck out of here and do something. Don’t be like the rest of them and stay here forever.” There are those that stay on staff duty and do nothing else because they like it.
In 2009 I started the Q Course and didn’t have trouble with anything. I trained up well and regardless of what people say, the experience sucks. It was crazy to watch all the guys I started with start to drop like flies. The class started with over 400 and at the end, before they told us who made it and didn’t, the class was around 100. They called your roster number at that point, and you'd go outside. If they didn't call you, you stayed inside. I went with a buddy from Ft. Benning and his number was called and that made for a tough ride home, because he didn't make it. Those of us who passed stayed the entire day and chose our jobs. I wanted to be a weapons guy as my first choice and then an engineer. My aptitude score was too high so I had to be either 18-Delta or 18-Echo. I didn’t want to be in school for an extra year. My review with one of the cadre told me I sucked at everything including running, land nav, leadership (laughs). I knew I sucked at some of those things but most of those I actually did really well. I think he was trying to prove a point to me that I wasn't all that.
What do you remember about getting to your unit?
JB: When I got to my unit everyone was down in South America on a rotation. It was basically myself and several of the new guys. I was able to get some things done while waiting on them to return. I was still doing my job and learning the inner workings of everything. When everyone got back they figured out who needed who. They sat us down and told us which teams we would be on. This group had been together for quite a while and I almost felt like I was in their way. It was a learning experience for sure.
When was your first deployment with 7th group?
JB: It was in 2011 and we went to Peru where it started out as a 45 day deployment but turned into 3 months. We had to deal with the Military Assistance Advisory Group. We planned it all out with training them the first half of the day and then the remainder of the day doing our own shit. When it turned into 90 days we thought we would front load all their training but they told us that wasn’t happening. We got down there and they wanted us to do training from 8-5 every day. I had to make a star course for them and ran it just like ours. I would let them get some sleep and the other guys would set points up on hills. I said, “If there is only one of you that goes to the point to get the fucking number, and one stays down, then you will start over. This is a team.” I made their life suck during that training regimen.
Where did you deploy next?
JB: I went to Columbia for three months and did embassy work during that time. We were attached to the B Team down there. It was pretty cool. You get to see how things work as far as supplies and things like that. I came back to do more training in Texas and then to Afghanistan in October of 2013.
Who were you attached to with while you were there in Afghanistan?
JB: The mission to Afghanistan was about security. It was about increasing the stabilization at the checkpoints that were further out in the rural areas. I had only been there a month when I got blown up. I didn’t get to see to much of the country (laughs). I remember everything up to a certain point about the day I was wounded. We took side-by-sides out there on trailers and I was in one of those. These side-by-sides give you this overwhelming firepower and I was part of planning that mission. We were almost back to base on a dirt trail with a compound on one side and canal on the other. I can still see the trucks 400 meters away and I remember thinking, "We're almost there." The next thing I know I’m asking my wife for water from my bed in Germany.
What had actually happened?
JB: We had some of the team up front along with the side-by-sides and then guys in the rear. I assume it was a pressure plate that we hit, and an older one that was more weight sensitive. It didn’t look out of the ordinary from what I do remember. The blast created an 8 foot crater and threw Rich about 30 feet into the air where he landed in a ditch. I flew out the side about 15 feet and Cody blew off the back and hit the other side-by-side and punctured his head. He lived and has a plate in his skull. He had some traumatic brain injuries but he made it. He’s totally aware of everything going on but verbalizing things is hard along with some movement issues on his left side. 18 Deltas are the best medics there are and that’s a fact. They really helped us as much as they could at the moment. Ours were Brett and Lunchbox, who we appropriately named because he liked to eat (laughs). They're awesome dudes and Lunchbox has now given some incredible lectures on ketamine, concerning dosages. He's moved on to doing bigger and better things. I did rehab at CFI for a year and then went back to group. I was there for eight or nine months before retiring.
What do you remember about recovery?
JB: The first thing I remember was asking for water which I couldn’t have because of the tracheal tube. I said to my wife, “I love you baby, give me some water.” She said back to me, “I can’t give you any water because you have a tracheal tube.” I told her to get away from me and asked my twin who was there to give me some water (laughs). He took a sponge and squeezed it over my mouth. I don’t think I really knew I was missing shit until I got to Texas (SAMC). I would wake up from time to time and look under the blankets but go right back to sleep. It wasn’t until after the meds started wearing off, that it hit me I was missing limbs. I had a couple of down days because I had worked so hard to get to this job in Special Operations. I had the thought of, “What the fuck am I supposed to do now?” I had no idea how retirement worked and didn’t know anything about having a prosthetic. The thought of having a hook and wooden pirates leg came to my mind (laughs). I just didn’t know. I worried about how I'd take care of my family more than anything.
The training was always a big part of who I was as far as working out. I focused on working out and found athletes that had amputations who were working out. I researched their type of training. I found a guy that it took him five years to run his first race and decided I would do it in one year. I did a “Tough Mudder” ten months later in West Virginia. It sucked pretty badly. I had a good team of friends with me though. I kept doing them and did a total of twelve races over two years. I had some bad days in the beginning. I felt so high from the meds all the time so my emotions were all over the place. I sat and watched Netflix and didn’t want to do anything at first. The aspect of not being able to walk was the biggest bummer of all.
What would you say to people experiencing an injury like this?
JB: I think the biggest thing is people need to realize that it’s a choice in their mentality. I accepted it (the injury). I had a very good support system especially with my wife. It would definitely be harder if I was by myself. I think that setting goals is very important and I set a big goal for the overall picture.
What was your wife’s response to your injury and how did you handle it?
JB: When my wife got the call they told her I was a triple amputee which wasn't quite the truth (laughs). I’d lost two limbs of course. She will tell you she had an ominous feeling about the day it happened.
What was your post Army life like?
JB: I came back and was placed in the "wounded warrior" group. You would just check in and do PT. That was the routine. When I was at the wounded warrior group and not in charge of anything, it was hard. I was ready to get the fuck out. I could have stayed in and been able to be somewhere. I didn’t want to deploy in a fucking support role. I think when it was over I accepted the fact it was. There were new guys coming onto the team and I had been gone for a year. A few of the guys came to visit me. They had moved on and eventually things change because they had their own family to take care of. Their life was moving on and mine was on a different path. This was a big boy role I signed up for. I got used to being away from them.
What are the positives you’ve seen in the veteran community since you’ve been out?
JB: I think there are a lot of veterans that had horrible experiences and bounced back. They've seen something happen to someone else that makes them want to see the right benefits given to that wounded veteran. They want them to be taken care of, so they invest their time in improving legislation and helping out with different non-profits. It’s admirable that they invest their free time and worry about that.
What are some of the negatives?
JB: I think there are some of us that ride the damn gravy train. I’m not saying you aren’t entitled to your benefits. I understand that your entire life has been altered at a young age. I was thirty years old when my injury happened and it all depends on your situation. If you’re a paraplegic you’re still not limited. You can go back to college or try something new. You could try knitting and become the best knitter in the entire fucking world (laughs). It’s just about doing something. It stems from rehab time. You could tell who the SF guys were during rehab and then who the regular guys were, by their work ethic. I think they get there to rehab and stay forever and their mentality stays with them of not having to do anything. It’s the entitlement issue. Their gratification is for one day at a time and not really something that is lasting or fulfilling long term. There are guys that adapt and go out and get normal jobs. You need to get involved with your community and not be a hermit. That's my advice.
Can you talk about post life since you’ve been out and trying to do?
JB: I retired in 2015 and knew that I would take some time off. I wanted to find a job and do something. I hate failure. In fact, I absolutely despise it. It’s probably why I’m an asshole (laughs). I didn’t want to become one of those guys that don’t do shit. I was thirty-one years old at the time and at first it was awesome because I could take time off. I was able to go and do all of the races and hang out with my family. There came a point when I sat at home for four months and didn’t do anything. Me and my wife had our own home gym and I was able to workout there. There was a point when I didn’t leave my house for four weeks. My wife would go get groceries and all I did was workout and play with my kids. We went driving around one day and I saw a new building and asked her about when it was built. She told me it had been there for a while and that was when I wondered what kind of fucking life I was living. I hadn't even realized the building had gone up there. You can only sit around and watch so much Netflix (laughs).
After that, the Gary Sinise Foundation came and talked to us about building a house. We decided to move back here. I loved working out and teaching the kids during the summer. I decided I wanted to build a gym and my wife had said to do it if that’s what I wanted to do. I would get to meet new people in my community and help them. I definitely didn’t want to be that crippled guy that doesn’t do anything with the rest of his life.
What advice would you give to veterans that want to start their own business?
JB: The first thing I would say about owning your own business, is to make sure you have the capital. If you don’t have the funds make sure you have a good lender. You need to have that long term goal and have double the budget. You don’t want to have to be going back to ask for more money. I think the biggest thing I would recommend to anybody would be to save your fucking money (laughs). Don’t buy shit you don’t need. If you have the iPhone 8 and the new one is coming out you have to ask yourself if you really need it. Don’t waste your money and try to invest. Pay off your loans and everything that you owe. If you have that opportunity to open a business the bank will see you are a good investment for them.
What do you think of the current cultural climate here in the U.S.?
JB: I think people as adults have fallen so far from having respect for each other as humans. Regardless of what your political belief is, the amount of respect isn’t there anymore. For example, you’ve got Democrats saying they are going to harass President Trump’s cabinet members. How far have we fallen that we just can’t disagree with the policies and principles? We can voice it all we want but when we are personally attacking someone, that’s just wrong. We have fallen so far as a society when we see that as being even close to okay.
How do we get that back?
JB: I think, sadly enough, we place more value in tangible goods than we do respect and honor. Nobody seems to care about earning respect anymore. People just want to buy shit and be cool, whatever that actually means. They don’t want to work hard to earn it. I think that’s part of the problem. We have over-estimated a college education, and don’t get me wrong, college is important. But, I think trade jobs are extremely vital and people miss out on that. The plumber and contractor positions are good jobs. We have kids that grown up being told those jobs are not important. If my kid wants to grow up and sling concrete then more power to him. He can start his own fucking business. You have to work hard to make money in this life, no matter what you’re doing. Social Media was a good platform when it started because you could keep in contact with people. I think that now it’s used to push agendas and it’s used to put problems out there. Barely anyone did that before social media. It makes people feel brave enough to have opinions about things they don’t necessarily understand. People spin their story a certain way and especially our politicians. I don’t think the whole story makes it out there and so now we have a bunch of misinformed people walking around, spouting off on subjects they don’t even understand.
What have you enjoyed most about marriage through everything you’ve gone through?
JB: My wife puts up with my bullshit (laughs). She's awesome. I don’t think I have words for it really. We make each other laugh and kiss each other goodnight which is a pretty good life if you ask me.
What was the process for deciding on the name “Foundry” for your gym?
JB: We were trying to come up with names for the gym and came up with “Foundry Athletics.” The “Foundry” part of the name means you’re taking a piece of metal, beating it down, and then casting it to make something new. It’s like the human body. Every time you step into the gym you’re changing your body and making a better version of yourself.
You had a big following on social media. Why did you step away from that?
JB: The majority of my time was being spent worrying about what people thought of my social media, and I knew that was a problem. I was always working out and having my wife take photos. I was more worried about my phone than my family. We were working on getting the gym going and I didn’t have time to keep up anymore. When I stopped posting, life became so much sweeter. I don’t sit on my fucking phone that much now. I don’t have Facebook and I actually read the news. I know what’s really going on in the world rather than what people are telling me (laughs). It’s better than seeing what somebody tattooed on their ass or face (laughs). I’d see veterans on there a lot of times posting all day, and that’s not to take away from them because some are doing awesome things. I’d also see those that were posting photos of themselves totally fucked up and riding the pity train. I got tired of the whole thing.
What was the decision making process of going into body competition?
JB: This is going to sound a bit narcissistic. There were so many cripples doing races and I thought I could do it as well. I wanted it to be super fucking challenging. I wanted to do a men’s physique competition. I trained for eight months with dieting and working out. I did a show and that was a total waste of money (laughs). The spray tans are horrible, especially when you’re a ginger (laughs). I took 5th out of 12th overall. I know they have disabled bodybuilding shows but I didn’t think that was fun at all. I placed third in my class. It wasn’t rewarding enough for all the work I put into training.
Where does the idea come from when you talk about the military not defining you?
JB: I don’t know really think my military service defines me. I wasn’t drafted or anything like that. It was my choice to join. I chose my path. Nobody made me re-enlist two times. It was a job and it doesn’t define me today. I know what I did and that’s all that matters.
What are your goals moving forward?
JB: When it comes to the gym, I want to be able to expand and add on. We do want to cap it off when it gets to a certain number and make it a private training facility. We don’t want to be overcrowded and people want to be there for the services offered. Hopefully in two years someone will offer $600,000 and buy me out so I can retire (laughs). I would be okay with that or if they paid my loan off too. I want to enjoy life and see my kid grow up. I think the dad part of life is great. I want to watch him succeed and try new things in life. Honestly, one of my favorite things is to see him learn life lessons.
To doubt Jared in any facet of his life, is to misunderstand almost everything about the man’s character. He’s taken on every single challenge life has thrown his way, and conquered it with a resolve few could match. It’s this same unceasing determination that made him a prodigious asset to our nation’s Green Berets. Although Bullock no longer dons the beret, his spirit is still very much the ideal representation of the warrior class. No bullet, blade, or explosive device is capable of vanquishing the motivating force behind men like Jared. One of the most impressive aspects of this intrepid spirit is the characteristic of adaptability. Few understand the tremendous difficulties faced by those who’ve lost even one limb. Jared’s injuries seem to have only stoked the internal fires that propel him forward. From the regular Army to Special Forces, to some of the harshest parts of Afghanistan, to a hospital bed with devastating injuries, to endurance races, to physique competitions alongside whole-bodied competitors, to athletic complex ownership… Is there anything he can’t do? Don’t doubt him. He’s just getting started.
We’d like to thank Jared and his wife Jessica for having us out at Foundry Athletics for the day, their beautiful, brand new gym. Foundry Athletics can be found on Instagram: @FoundryAthletics, and on Facebook: @FoundryAthletics. If you’re in Carterville, Illinois and in need of a gym home, look no further than Foundry. You won’t find a better workout facility in Southern Illinois.