When the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, Jake Wood traded in his football pads for combat gear.
He was a freshman offensive lineman at the University of Wisconsin, but when tragedy shook the nation, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps., dove head-first into a life of service and never looked back.
That’s part of the reason why Wood will receive the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the 2018 ESPY Awards.
After being promoted to sergeant and serving four years in Iraq and Afghanistan as a scout sniper, he was honorably discharged in 2009. Since then, he committed to advocating for military veterans and launched his own outlet for them to continue serving.
As the CEO and co-founder of Team Rubicon, Wood is giving veterans, who often struggle with PTSD, depression and a host of other post-war problems, a stable bridge back to life as a civilian.
“Team Rubicon is a non-profit organization that recruits, trains and deploys military veterans for disaster response work. I think veterans are uniquely prepared for this work for a couple of reasons,” he told Gerson Lehrman Group. “First, for most them, service is a part of who they are. They don’t lose that when they get out of the military, and on top of that, the U.S. taxpayer invested a lot of money into them. They’ve been trained in really critical skills across a wide variety of functions, most of them, in some way, are applicable after a disaster.”
The organization was essentially created on January 10, 2010, when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake leveled Haiti. That’s when Wood and fellow Marine and friend, William McNulty, gathered a group of veterans, first responders and medical workers to head to the island nation with supplies in tow.
Since its inception, Team Rubicon has responded to more than 250 disasters in groups of eight to 80,000. Their primary focus is on areas and populations that are often overlooked or underserved by traditional aid organizations. They’ve even connected with coalition veterans on a global level and set up satellite locations to carry out their relief work.
No doubt, Wood is worthy of receiving the Pat Tillman Award for Service, which was “established in 2014 to commemorate the former NFL player and U.S. Army Ranger’s legacy, and honor an individual with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes the legacy of Tillman.”
“Pat was motivated by a strong determination and commitment to teamwork,” said Marie Tillman, chair and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation. “Through his leadership of Team Rubicon, Jake is challenging fellow veterans to stay on the front line and lead by example in their communities.”
And, in typical Marine fashion, Wood humbly gave his “team” much of the credit.
“In Pat Tillman, I found a man of courage and conviction, and his sacrifice inspired me to serve,” said Jake Wood. “Since 2001, millions of Americans have answered their nation’s call to service, and my time in the Marine Corps was by no means different. Today, as a small part of Team Rubicon, I’m surrounded by these very same men and women – joined together on a team committed to serving others. As I think of this award, I can’t help but think that if Pat were still alive that he’d be wearing Team Rubicon’s iconic Greyshirt and serving alongside us.”
This is more proof that real heroes don’t wear football pads.
The 2018 ESPY Awards will air live on Wednesday, July 18, at 8 p.m. EST.