For Jacob Lachapelle, Veterans Day means something different than it might for other students.
“I know Veterans Day is a day when you’re supposed to celebrate the veterans,” Lachapelle said. “To me, it is a reminder of how great it is to breathe oxygen in and out of my lungs everyday, and it is a reminder of everybody who didn’t make it back.”
He observes Veterans Day as a day to say a prayer to those who died in service.
“They paid the ultimate sacrifice, and their families are going to suffer for the rest of their lives as well,” Lachapelle said.
Lachapelle, a senior accounting major, was in the Marine Corps with the rank of sergeant and served as infantry assault man in “Operation Enduring Freedom” in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
“I did 320 patrols, then I did 20 to 30 convoys and primarily swept for improvised explosive devices,” Lachapelle said.
Lachapelle tried to find the bombs in the area and worked with demolitions used to blow up obstacles and rockets to take out enemy vehicles.
“Primarily what I did in Afghanistan was try to find improvised explosive devices and try to clear towns of Taliban,” Lachapelle said.
The improvised explosive devices were powerful enough to blow someone’s legs off if they stepped on a board that initiated such a device.
Lachapelle went to over 10 different countries during his service and has been through jungle warfare training and mountain warfare training.
One of his most memorable experiences is scuba diving in Thailand after a night of drinking.
“You’re just celebrating, because you’re working all the time, so you have that one good night, so everybody’s getting sick, so then you get your scuba diving gear on, it was just hilarious,” Lachapelle said.
Joining the military was something Lachapelle always wanted to do.
Back in 2008, when he lived in Texas, there was a high demand for Marines.
“I kind of felt guilty had I not wanted to serve, being physically fit and willing,” Lachapelle said. “I didn’t want to take freedom for granted. I wanted to take part in defending it.”
He remembers his first days in boot camp as hell, although now sees it as the easiest part of serving.
“The first few days, you’re sleep deprived, you’re hungry and you’re constantly on the move,” Lachapelle said. “Anybody can do boot camp if they have the mentality, but to deploy is different.”
He described boot camp from a college student’s perspective as going to class every day, and deployment to when they find a job.
“School’s the easiest part, then when you’re in the workplace you have to assume more responsibility,” Lachapelle said. “Boot camp, for the military, is ‘hey, can he make it through? Is he going to be a good candidate?’ Then once you’ve gone past that, then you’ve gone through the challenging part.”
Lachapelle said the most challenging part of his service was coming home without some of the people he served with, then having to face their families.
“You can imagine, you left, you made essentially a family member and then they don’t come back, they died or they got blown up, or they drowned to death, then coming back and seeing their families,” Lachapelle said. “That’s the hardest part, accepting they won’t be there anymore.”
Lachapelle made many close bonds by serving together with people and being in the same situations.
“Coming back, asking like ‘hey where’s so-and-so?’ And they’ll be like, ‘Oh, they got shot, or hey man he’s not here anymore,’ then seeing their family just distraught is really sad too,” Lachapelle said.
Lachapelle has been able to keep in contact with some of the family members of people he has known who have died in the war.
“It’s a little bit difficult, usually I ask people who are closer to them (how they are),” Lachapelle said. “It’s easier to ask how the family’s doing through a family friend, because I don’t want to remind that family every day.”
However, Lachapelle was not able to keep in touch with his own family while in Afghanistan.
Lachapelle said because they were not able to communicate, his family did not have to worry about getting a phone call at 2 a.m or 3 a.m. missing it, then worrying it would be the last time they heard from him.
Lachapelle sometimes has a hard time balancing his life as a student and a veteran.
“It’s hard sometimes to take certain topics in class seriously when you were in an environment where your life was continually in danger and you were responsible for the lives of people,” Lachapelle said.
Lachapelle said he loves Eastern, but it could improve with how they help veterans transition.
“I’m not saying huge accommodations, but no one wants to come to EIU as a veteran and have to go through PROWL,” Lachapelle said. “Just show me where my classes are. We’re very goal-oriented, we just want to come to school, get in, get out.”
The Student Veterans of Eastern, a Registered Student Organization has a network with veterans all across America, to help students with this transition.
The biggest thing Lachapelle said Eastern could use was a specified location on campus just for veterans.
“It’s called a Vet’s Center. It needs to be where the certifying official is located, the veteran advocate and if they can have those two people next to each other it would make life a lot easier,” Lachapelle said. “When you’re surrounded by traditional college students, you need to have that time and space away from those college students to vent and collaborate with those (veteran) students.”
He said when Veterans come to Eastern, they can contact Student Veteran of Eastern and they will help them.
“We get them taken care of, because we’re veterans, we want to see them do well,” Lachapelle said.
What Lachapelle wants to do now is connect with other RSOs on campus.
“I want to show students and faculty and staff how involved we can be, how appreciative we are of people supporting us,” Lachapelle said. “Hopefully, we will win the hearts and minds on campus so when the time comes to ask for a Vet’s Center we’ll have a unanimous vote across campus.”
Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]