Episode 067 – Part 1 – A real military story, overcoming extreme adversity, gaining perspective, maintaining peak performance under high pressure, using reflection as a super power and more with Jaco Van Gaas
One of the best ways to achieve perspective for any adversity we have in our lives, is to look at extreme scenarios. This doesn’t mean your adversity is any less important, but it does allow you the space required to say: ‘I can deal with this’.
At time of recording, the global pandemic has amplifies this sense of adversity and continues to be a challenge on a macro and micro level. So the question then is, how do we overcome this adversity as a collective and on a personal level?
To help Dr Ro and Harminder not only answer that question, but leave you with jaw wide open – a special guest by the name of Jaco Van Gaas joins the conversation today.
Jaco Van Gaas
Jaco is a keen Adventurer, Motivational Speaker, World & Paralympic Champion Para-Cyclist and a World Record holder
South African born Jaco van Gass was a member of the British Armed Forces Parachute Regiment.
It was during Jaco’s second tour of Afghanistan in 2009, after five and a half months and with just two weeks to go when Jaco sustained severe life changing injuries. Jaco and his platoon were engaged by Enemy Forces and after an intense 45 minute fire fight, Jaco was hit by an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade). The injuries he sustained included the loss of his left arm at the elbow, a collapsed left lung, shrapnel wounds to his left side, punctured internal organs, blast wounds to upper thigh, a broken tibia and a fractured knee. Jaco had 11 operations and intense rehabilitation.
Despite the physical and mental trauma endured, Jaco became a first-class downhill skier, and multiple marathon runner. He was a member of the record-breaking team of wounded soldiers to trek unsupported to the North Pole (joined partly by Prince Harry), and he’s also climbed Alaska’s 6000m Mt Denali, and Everest (narrowly missing the summit due to adverse weather). He has overcome adversity and is taking on the world.
Jaco has been a member of the GB Para-Cycling team, competing internationally at the World Championships in 2013, 2014 and 2015. He has become a National Champion Cyclist on the road multiple times. Jaco raced in the Para-Cycling Track World Championships in March 2018 and won a bronze medal in the C4 4K Pursuit.
In 2020 Jaco became a Triple World Champion in Track Cycling at the Track World Championships in Milton and also won two silver medals. Jaco most recently competed in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and became a double Paralympic Champion and a three times World Record holder.
(Bio from https://www.jacovangass.com/#intro)
In part one of a two part special, Jaco shares with us his journey from childhood to becoming a member of the British Armed Forces Parachute Regiment. To that fateful night where he experienced life changing injuries that altered the trajectory of his life for good.
Interweaved in this incredible story are stand out learnings and hidden insights.
Based on your life as of listening, you’ll no doubt experience unique feelings and learnings of your own. Including perspective, direction, inspiration, motivation and more.
Finally, at the end of part one, Jaco shares with the listeners one of the key activities which shifts the tide on how you are feeling about your personal challenges and adversity.
Listen to part one now and look out for part two early next year.
Learn more about Jaco Van Gaas at: https://www.jacovangass.com/
Harms: Hello it’s Harms here and welcome to another episode of the Seekardo show and I’m going to keep the introduction very short because I’m super excited to get deep into our special guest story and extract the inspiration, guidance and help he will give.
This very much comes about because in life more often than not, we all face a situation where we have some adversity, this can be at any level and when that adversity appears in our life, what do we do next?
Often, the question arises, what do we do with our life, once adversity has come because some people can take that as this has now transformed my life in a negative way and then take a negative path or somebody can take that transformation or moment in their life and pivot like what the word Seekardo means literally pivot, literally create a turning point and walk on a positive path in their life.
That’s the path we want to guide you through and that will come out naturally because the guest that we have today will leave you with that.
Dr Ro: Thanks Harms and welcome everybody to the Seekardo show and I’ve got to be honest, I am super pumped today because not only have we got an amazing guest, an amazing human being but a friend of mine and I think that’s why I’m more excited.
We have an incredible human being Jaco Van Gaas.
He is a keen adventurer, motivational speaker. World and Paralympic champion, Paralympics cyclists and world record holder and just a lovely human being. When his name comes up in conversation always this sense of what a beautiful person is and I want to say you’ve got this great calmness about you, maybe that’s shaped from what happened to you but I think it’s also built into your DNA.
South African born, a member of the British armed forces Parachute Regiment and this is where the history comes in because during Jaco’s second tour in Afghanistan 2009, which by the way, when we’re recording this is 11 years ago. Do you feel you have aged a lot or younger in that time?
Jaco: I feel younger. Life is busy.
Dr Ro: After five and a half months just two weeks to go Jaco sustained a severe, life changing injury. He and his platoon were engaged with enemy forces and during that there was an intense attack.
For most people, even the idea of this if you’re watching a film you’d just be sat there stunned by the experience he had despite the physical and mental trauma that Jaco went through and endured through this, he became a first-class downhill skier, and multiple marathon runner. Was a member of the record-breaking team of wounded soldiers that trekked unsupported to the North Pole joined in part by Prince Harry.
Also climbed Alaska’s 6000 m Mount Denali and Everest, narrowly missing the summit due to adverse weather conditions and on top of all of that he then went into cycling and became a member of the Great Britain Paralympic team competing internationally, world championship 2013,14, 15 became a national champion cyclist and multiple times and has competed more recently 2020 triple world champion track cyclist. Champion two silver medals.
Most recently, double Paralympic champion and three times world record holder.
On a personal level for everybody I met Jaco four, five years ago now and it was at dinner, at the same dinner table at a charity event for Make-A-Wish. You were with your beautiful fiancée Catherine and we got chatting and there was a really strong connection and then during the night we spoke several times I remember and there was this really sort of strong bond instantly formed and then Jaco and I stayed in touch.
Then he ended up in an audience of mine. I was talking about property, we got to know each other, he met my kids and we just stayed in touch since then and I guess part of his property journey I have been quite lucky to be part of as well.
The big thing for me Jaco is just the fact that as a human being you find this incredible balance between being this Olympic world champion, being an amazing partner and that’s not easy, we all have challenges.
To manage that celebrity status to be a professional speaker and to show up on a consistent basis and then train to get to the Olympics and perform is unbelievable and I just want to say to you as a human being that’s truly an inspiration. I reach out to your story, sometimes and just remind myself, man this is an incredible journey, so thank you so much for coming on today and being part of the podcast.
Jaco: Thank you so much for having me as you know we know each other on a personal level for some time, but I have also been great supporter and listener of the podcast and I’ve listened to so many and I have always taken bits from them at certain times and now to actually be on the podcast is amazing.
Dr Ro: Tell us as open as you feel comfortable, talk to us about you.
Jaco: One thing I do look back on is my childhood and I’ve had such a privilege and such a wonderful child and I thank my parents for that on a regular basis.
Especially in today’s world society where we face so many challenges on a daily basis and I think especially in this world where it’s all about what you do, how you look, how many followers you have and the world has changed so much from me being a kid.
Again tough times, but also as parents I can’t fault what they’ve done, they’ve given me so many opportunities in life. My dad had had his own tiny little business and we’ve been bankrupt a few times so even in that sense it was a big negative but in that time my dad taught me the importance of money and how to look after your money as stuff can go wrong so quickly.
Dr Ro: How were your parents, strict, firm? If you dig deep, any parts of that shaped up who you are today and how you react to certain things?
Jaco: Yes very much. There was definitely some form of discipline, a very big Christian family form of structure within our house.
It was one of the biggest pains actually growing up to be honest, because you get to an age where you start going out and going to parties and I had a curfew of 11 o’clock. It doesn’t matter if it’s the house next door. I had to be in my bed by 11 o’clock and my mum would call me literally one second past 11 Jaco where are you?
And I remember I was like everyone is still here, why do I have to leave? I was known as the guy who would leave at 11 o’clock and I remember the whole party. It came at 11 my phone would ring and the whole party would quieten down.
Eventually I managed to push the curfew back slightly. So actually there’s always been structure, discipline has always been some sort of a rule in our house as well.
So first thing in the morning you make your bed, it is how you start the day. You don’t leave it untidy then the day starts untidy. My mum was a clean freak so she would redo my bed.
Dr Ro: Did that help you go into the army?
Jaco: It literally did, it was little things like that and when I got to the army I was like I’m used to this.
But I had a wonderful childhood, I had grandparents on the farm and we lived in the town and most of my weekends and especially holidays were spent on a farm outdoors running around, riding bicycles with the animals, on the back of a pickup with my grandad just doing all that boy stuff and I loved every second of it.
I think that’s where my love for being active, being outdoors really came and I think that’s where a little seed already very early on was born to potentially go into the military.
Again I’ve shot air rifles from a very young age. I think I was eight or nine and I could drive, I was sitting on either my dad or grandads lap and was given full control of the vehicle to a degree. So I have great confidence in those areas and just playing rugby and to a very decent level to a high level in South African schools, rugby is one of the main sports and I went to a technical school. Doing lots with your hands as well.
Dr Ro: Would you say you were almost athletic at a young age?
Jaco: Yeah. I was lucky I had an older sister three years older than me. She was a bit of a tomboy and we were always outside playing football, rugby, cricket on the bikes and also another element that helped as well.
I think I was 10 years old we were watching the television that night, kind of a routine after dinner with the parents. The screen went a bit blurry every once in a while, and the next thing we knew the screen went blank and there was a big puff of smoke coming out of the back of the TV and it blew up.
My dad never replaced it. from the age of 10 we never had a TV until I think about 18 so I didn’t have that distraction in my life. My day would consist of after school coming back, doing my homework, my learning and then being outside and the times I needed to take myself away from that learning environment or studying, I’d go outside, get fresh air and I look back on it now and it was wonderful that we had that.
Harms: What a contrast that is to the way our generation is growing up now, where actually by default it’s the screen first and the other stuff is nice to have.
Maybe we will take you to the park for five, 10 minutes but if it’s raining let’s go inside.
Jaco: That definitely builds again that being outside, getting fresh air, being active. I remember, we had a big wall against the garage and me and my sister sprayed a big white line across the wall and that’s the height of a tennis net, so we were playing tennis against each other against the wall.
It was amazing and just kept us active, busy and that was why I feel like I’ve just had this wonderful, brilliant upbringing in terms of and so privileged to be outside so much.
Dr Ro: On that journey what was the point where you made that shift to the military and your direction?
Was it an inspiration from somebody else or a self-driven thing?
Jaco: I’ve had this passion about the military and in South Africa I actually wanted to join the police force, so it was just after I left school I was a bit unsure of where I wanted to go or to do and we weren’t a very rich family.
We didn’t have enough money to send me to university but there also wasn’t something that I was like I wanted to be a doctor or I wanted to be an engineer or I wanted to go into sports therapy, there wasn’t that clear direction and for me I was like what do I want?
While I was figuring out what I wanted I started studying part-time and I was working for my dad and actually during that time and this is basically year and a half I craved independence. There was something burning inside me going.
I want my own home, I want to live in my own flat, I want my own car and I want so many things, but again my dad being quite old school he said you start at the bottom. I remember walking to work with him and he handed me a paintbrush and we had a big warehouse where he kept all the different supplies of the things he was doing.
He was an entrepreneur with a number of small businesses and he needed a fresh lick of paint and I started painting the warehouse that was the rest of the month basically working for my dad and I slowly worked my way up, eventually actually owning a tiny little business at the age of 20. I had a fire lighter business, alongside that of a third-party company with some wood and some charcoal.
In South Africa especially in the summer season loads of BBQ’s. at the age of 20 I was given this responsibility and I had a lovely young lady working and helping me making firelighters, but there was something more inside me that bubbled up and I was like on this trajectory it’s going to take me years and years and years to move out of the house and get rid of this bloody curfew that I’m under.
I always had a passion for the army and I realised being South African and part of the Commonwealth I can join the British military and I started really looking into this and this became an option that seemed really viable and I really bought into that. I then sold everything I had. I saved up a little bit of money because I had a hi-fi.
Dr Ro: Hi-fi thing. I remember that period because it was like a big thing to own a hi-fi. If you had a hi-fi your mates would come round, it was like the thing everyone wanted. Selling that was no small deal you made a big commitment to do that then?
Jaco: Yeah I was 100% born into coming to the UK and joining the British military.
I knew I was going into inventory and I quite was far down the line with this whole process and then a very good friend of mine wanted to join me, I was like yeah okay, no problem. It was quite a big rush to get his paperwork sorted to come over to get into the UK and somehow we managed it and myself and Ian we were very best friends at school and we’re on a plane with two young boys aged 20, leaving South Africa behind into the cold UK.
Luckily we came in June, and literally it was the case of landing on a Saturday morning and I was fortunate enough that my sister lived in London at the time so we had a familiar face on the other side of the pond. She showed us the sites of London and Monday morning I was in the careers office in Trafalgar Square.
There was a recruitment there and I walked in and there was an office from the rifle regiment. He talked to us a few bits and bobs and he’s trying to recruit and I remember just before literally seconds before we left the building there was another guy coming and he was immaculately dressed and he had this maroon beret and he heard this extremely strong South African accent. I know I’ve still got one but it’s a lot more tame than what it was before.
He said are you boys from South Africa?
We were like yes, he was like joining the parachute regiment. That’s all he said and we walked off. I Went back to my sister’s flat and looked up the parachute regiment and immediately I fell in love with it.
Everything they stood for, training and they make it clear this is not for everyone and it’s only the guys that will get through it and this is a challenge to become a paratrooper and immediately I was like this is the one I want to join.
Dr Ro: Was this chap South African or English?
Jaco: He was English.
Dr Ro: What do you think was the trigger? Why did he hear the accent and say that specifically?
Jaco: He knew we’d make good soldiers.
He was like you guys, you almost need very little training, you tick the boxes going through our basic training because you know field craft very well, you can shoot already, most of you can handle a weapon from a very young age and can shoot.
You don’t need to be taught the principles so basically you’re halfway there.
Dr Ro: Would it be fair to say as well that there is a level of just innate toughness there because of the environment you grew up in South Africa?
Jaco: Exactly that. It is that toughness.
They knew South Africans to a degree have a good reputation with the army, and he was like a chunk of you guys join because that’s what suits you. I remember as well as you taking a few steps back standing around a firepit having conversations with my friends, parents and dad. They still had to do national service and I was hooked on the stories and the one thing that they also talked about was the Paramats.
It was always like we would do this and the Paramats would come in and they’ll just clean up and they just had this effect wherever they were they got the job done and they had such a powerful aura around them.
I was like yeah that’s the one.
Dr Ro: It shows you how little hooks start to lay the seed. Don’t ignore them and I do believe the screens on the TV it’s so noisy that people lose those messages. There is so much going on that you miss sometimes a universal message as we’re just hooked on something digital.
Harms: I think it distracts us from the real story, that story around the firepit Jacko just was just describing where somebody is relaying their past experience that’s the truest form of story you’re going to get. Yes you have something for social media, from a video format but the real story is around the fire pit being inspired by the story.
Dr Ro: And their family members, their elders, there is that respect.
Same thing in your culture Harms. You go to India kids are kicking a ball around sometimes a can but not in front of screens. I think here in the Western world, particularly this country, we’ve just become so softened by all the nice things we have around us. that toughness hasn’t been put into us, we haven’t grown up with it.
Who was the person that was just about to sign up, how would you describe yourself as a person?
What values were there?
Jaco: That’s a wonderful question.
I remember again the day before getting on a plane we had a goodbye celebration with my friends and a lot of people said, are you actually going to join the army? I was like yeah and they said we can’t see that, you’re the soft type of person you always care, you always give up your time, you’re police and you always look people in the eye.
It doesn’t matter if people tell you the dullest story or it’s the most interesting story or not you give up your time and focus on that individual, you’re going to go pick up a gun and go into a battlefield. I was like yes but I’m excited about that, but they couldn’t see me as a person. But what the army taught me about is that there are two sides.
There’s a time where had I had to be Jaco the soldier and I knew how to switch him on and there was a job I needed to do and was a mission I had to do and then when you’re not on the range you are not in army environment you have to switch off because you’re not a soldier when you’re in the pub.
There is always a line between the two.
Harms: It’s a great example of how we can also apply it to our lives where there are high-pressure business situations, work life, the reality is you work, you’re passionate about it, you love it.
Then when you come home and spend time with your family and your kids and your social circles be the person who you are with that social circle. What often happens I think is people blur the lines and they take their identity from the workplace and they take that ego potentially into their social circles or to their family life, whereas you’re actually not the manager at home with your kids.
That’s what you do at work, this is a great example of being able to compartmentalise maybe switch and not lose who you are, based on the job you’re doing at the moment in time.
Dr Ro: Is there a technique, a way you’ve developed to do that Jaco?
Jaco: I think the most obvious thing is your environment, it will dictate immediately which one you need to switch to in order to connect with people or do the job you need to do in order to get through that situation.
Again this is something I had to learn to become better at over a certain period of time. I walked into that recruitment office and I was more civilian than soldier and slowly I had to find a balance of more soldiers less civilian.
I think you’ll always be a soldier more than a civilian as once you go through that process and that is exactly what your basic training does. Your basic training breaks you down as a civilian to rebuild you as a soldier because we are faced with challenges and we are asked to do things beyond what we’ve been brought up and asked of us as children or as young adults and we need to go and do that job that is required from us.
Dr Ro: I guess it’s acting in the moment where you can’t even second-guess or question. You just have to operate under a certain protocol a certain way because of the circumstances.
Jaco: Correct, because if there is a moment of hesitation you could lose your life. Or your best friend, that’s why making specific decisions in the environment you’re in at that time is so vital and you have to train. I didn’t join the army and my first day, week one I was a qualified trained soldier, it was a six month process just to qualify as a basic soldier.
To then go on to specialise in certain areas over a number period of time and again it took a great deal of experience in Afghanistan. I was young, eyes wide open going into Afghanistan and I played two different roles.
We did operational duty as well but I was also there to train the Afghan national army. The whole point was that we eventually leave and these guys will protect their country and fight against the Taliban.
Again a great deal of responsibility, at this stage I was only nine months out of my basic training and I was given a training role as an acting Lance Corporal going to train Afghan soldiers.
Dr Ro: How old were you at this stage?
Jaco: I was 21.
Dr Ro: What shifted from my gosh everyone’s perception of you being kind, and sometimes people’s perceptions of kindness is weakness, which is actually not the case as we know, but that was a perception.
This person that was also excited about going into an environment like this now fast forward you’re there, what shifted?
How have you changed as a person, what elements have changed at that point there?
Jaco:Through training, there was an element of toughening up and not getting the soft side of me not being overriding everything you’re actually there for.
As there was an element we’ve seen people in extremely tough conditions, extreme environments and what was on the nice side for me was I knew we were there to try and make a difference.
We were there as well, part of why we were there was also the hearts and minds concept where we go into communities and build schools, here to give protection for you to live your life as freely as you can and not under Taliban rule, which is extremely strict and especially for women and young children and especially girls.
There was an element of yes, you’re in a dangerous environment and there’s an element where you react against someone in a very violent way, but we’re also there to actually give people a better life, a better future and invest in this country by building schools, laying down electricity.
My job wasn’t that it was to give the protection towards that so engineers can come in and electricians, so there was an element of violence and force be used to it and I needed that and it came out at certain times, but there’s the element of we are here to do good as well.
Harms: Your core characteristics or one of them from your childhood which was recognised by your peers and your friends of kindness was actually a great benefit to the environment you were in, because if for argument sake there was no kindness and you were very much the forceful type then when you had to do those duties of building hearts and minds and creating a connection, actually that would’ve been a struggle.
It’s quite hard to go from a tough stance to kindness whereas you’re starting from a default which is kindness.
Someone can still show strength when needed and we can all apply that in in various parts of our life because often the kind person like Ro said, equals weakness and they feel like they get walked over or their voice is not heard, or they can’t be a certain person because they’re kind but that’s not the case.
You’re a walking example of somebody who can start from a place of kindness and apply other areas of strength when needed, depending on what the circumstance asks of you.
Dr Ro: On that point I want to dig deeper and ask a question.
Not everyone would have had that value system that you’ve got so do you feel that there was a very deep root part of who you are still going back to that parenting you had from your mother and your father, is it in your DNA to carry that with you?
Do you feel it’s real or do you have to pull it out sometimes and dig for it?
Were there times and are there times even today when rage and anger, those almost debilitating emotions take over and the person who we are inside we know we are sometimes gets pushed away and is like no.
Did that happen and how do you think you’ve managed that over the years?
Because what you do is towards you coming back to who you are today, as I still see that core of who you are, even now, after what you’ve gone through.
Jaco: Yeah very much, it’s that foundation, which has been properly laid by my parents and by my upbringing and that childhood.
There are those days and I can only be kind for so long. There is only so much I can take and there are days where I do boil over a little bit.
I think most likely more so in the last I would say year and half with the uncertainty that we as a nation, as a world have been facing and I’ve been trying to get married to the most beautiful I’ve ever met for the last three years.
We had to postpone and then everything just seemed and eventually went our way and we managed to get a few dates sorted and now we’re back on a travel ban. There’s all this uncertainty and yes there are boiling points and I think sometimes it shouldn’t be seen as a negative because you need that release.
You need that release and step away and then maybe someone can actually come to your beautiful partner, friends and they can actually be there for you, and you can move forward again. It happened in my military career as well and that’s where I can definitely recognise some elements of that.
Especially when you’re trying to find this balance of we’re here to do good, but there’s also an element of you’re being pushed to your boundaries. Especially when it hits home a lot closer to you when you start losing friends, when people start getting injured and lives are getting lost and these are people that you spend a lot of time with.
There’s an element where you go, this is serious now. I remember we had a fantastic tour and as a regiment as well we had a pretty big clean streak of a number of companies going into Afghanistan doing a great job coming back very few casualties and then suddenly one morning you wake up and you’ve got a feeling and one of your small groups of friends they’ve gone on to do an operation and a message comes in that they’ve been hit by an IED and we’ve lost three guys.
A bit of revenge starts settling in like you’ve taken one of ours, so then you’re angry and it starts taking over your mind and I remember clearly our missions and operations change immediately after that.
After losing some of the best guys you’ve known and I had a very particular strong bond with one of the individuals we lost because I was a mentor to him. He was a young private that only came into the regiment a few months before and I was given the task to take him under my wing.
I had this opportunity to help them through that transition from training into battalion.
Dr Ro: With the work I do with people on stage is when someone will come up and they’re in a relationship, the woman is saying that she feels that he’s lacking a sense of purpose or direction.
I often refer to a light and dark energy where he’s got the light playful almost boyish type energy, but she needs a depth of certainty like a shift into the dark, not being negative or aggressive but just, I’ve got this.
Tell me if I’m wrong but was there a shift in you in that respect?
I’ve lost friends along the way who have died in the civilian world and I know how that feels but not to the extremity you’ve experienced
What you’re describing to me is a shift not because you are a boy, but something shifted here and I can’t go back to that right now. I have to stay in this place now. I call it light and dark energy.
Jaco: I think you describe it absolutely perfectly.
It is like someone flipped a switch.
We were in this light area where we’re helping and suddenly it’s like wow and not just myself, there was a real feeling of the whole in every operator within that small group there was a switch in everyone and we then operated and how we then went out and conducted our jobs.
Harms: Jaco when you were describing that transition I felt it, I got chills. I felt you took us to the dark energy and that’s exactly the shift.
Dr Ro: Darkness isn’t negative, it’s more like a sense of seriousness, a different sense of purpose and maybe the purpose you were there shifted slightly. I know you talked about revenge but it’s more like protection for yourselves as a unit.
Jaco: Exactly. It was protection for the guy to your left and your right.
That was always there, but it was just heightened to the highest level possible, there was definitely a shift and a change in mindset of going out and being a lot more on your guard. It’s hard to describe, I can’t really put it into words.
This guy I was mentoring and the other guys was my mentor and I looked up to him. If there was ever a soldier that I inspired to be even if I could be 10% the soldier this guy was, I’d be amazing because he was so good.
He was destined to be one of the British soldiers we’ve ever had and go onto special forces and operations and those guys are gone.
There is a big shift, immediately to the darkness, but not in a horrible way, but that intensity, that energy just heightens up and there was a different way we viewed and then launched operations.
Dr Ro: So who are you at this point?
Leading into where you experienced your own traumatic injury which almost took your life, who were you?
Jaco:There was a lot more of Jaco the soldier.
Dr Ro: When it gets so intense things narrow down. The whole sense of life’s purpose is this now.
Our purpose shifted and it became narrow for us. It was then right this is our mission for tonight this is a guy we’re after.
This is the environment and where we are. Before it was like we’re going after this guy, more infiltrating the network and it shifted to like this is the guy, we’re getting the guy.
Again it doesn’t matter what happens tonight this guy will either get killed or captured and that’s it.
There was no bearing after and that’s the mission so there was no leeway towards any of it.
Dr Ro: Is it a complete chain of command? You’ve got a set outcome you have to do and everyone operates as tightly as possible. This is your world, everything outside there you just shut off from it.
Jaco: Totally shut off.
I remember Michael Jackson died and honestly I think it was about three weeks later, four weeks later we were a small unit as we were actually out on the ground doing what we do out there and we came back and someone went and MJ died.
I could just imagine the whole world melting about MJ and we were like, oh sorry to hear anyway for tomorrow. It had been a month since his passing. We didn’t even know about it and I came back and I looked up and saw the articles and videos of people crying but we were in a world where we didn’t know and it didn’t affect us and we had to carry out.
That is how narrow that line was.
There’s nothing from the outside world that we knew about that could affect us. We’re there to do a job and as long as we’re in that area in that situation we have to do what we need to do to keep the rest of the world safe.
Dr Ro: How did everybody else handle the environment?
What did you see around you? Were you a stabilising force, was there somebody else they gravitated to?
I can’t imagine everybody had the same level of consistency and there must’ve been a lot of emotional rollercoasters going on.
Jaco: Very much and, especially once your the R&R your rest and recovery, during the six months you get 14 days out the country to come back and once that rotation kicks it puts a lot of strain on us as the soldiers as operators.
Because you go from a unit of 20 guys and that’s three months in and then guys go on their R&R rotation so you then lost five guys on a regular basis, on a fortnightly basis to go back home and once you remove yourself from that environment then go back home and you see loved ones, once you spend that time with them we really see a change in them.
That last month, two months out there is very long, like three months, four months fly, but the last two months really absolutely are the longest time of your life.
We are all on the same level and then suddenly this influxes of different reasons to be there wanting to be there, not wanting to be there.
Dr Ro: What’s the change there? Is it that being forced to switch back into civilian mindset and family connection?
I think there’s a direct translation between the workplace and I’m not trying to simplify what you went through, but also for the listeners who can’t necessarily put themselves out with you, they are doing this in the workplace their jobs, their business, they can be consumed by that to the point when then come home and can’t switch off. Were some people just not switching off home and coming back?
Jaco: It goes both ways.
There were individuals that couldn’t switch off and then went back home and they were home but were not present. Their mind was in Afghanistan. That’s basically a similar place where I was.
Or it goes the other way. The guys managed to switch and then that time with the family was so amazing, but then so short they switch off and all they think of is, I’ve got to go back.
We spend weeks out in the in the field sleeping under vehicles and in the desert and on the campus, so little luxuries of having a warm shower, having a comfy bed and choice of food, you are living of ration packs for two, three weeks at a time it’s not nice and that’s all you have.
So they fall into that and find the other side really hard, let’s call it a struggle to a degree for them. Go back to the hardship of cold nights, horrible food, maybe running out of water for a little and putting yourself in a dangerous environment and that’s when all those influxes started happening and that’s when you see different elements of the guys.
But the first three months everyone is similar, you train to prepare. If you’re training it takes a lot of training to run a marathon and there’s a lot of input going into it but if you never run a marathon, why are you doing the training for it?
It’s the same we do all this training and we train for operation so getting there it’s like we’re here now, we’ve trained for it.
So those first couple of months we’re all on the same page and then suddenly there are these different fluctuations that come in and in my mind I was like, this is your job for this mission Jaco and I’ll execute it to the best I can.
I think there’s a certain mission where everything changed and I’m excited for the listeners to hear it because not everybody will be aware of the story.
Harms: I’d love you to transition us to that mission. What was the mission which changed everything?
Jaco: We were at this time five and a half months in and over the last couple of weeks we already started getting our stuff ready to eventually get shifted back to Bastian and that is one of the big camps in Afghanistan that we used to get back to the UK.
Then on the other side the operational kit was laid out. So basically everything we were going to be using within operations and some t-shirts and trainers and that’s basically what we needed. all the other little luxuries that we brought with us that already got packed away.
It was the 19th August and there was nothing on the cards actually to go on a mission that evening and it was late afternoon we got a call to come into the office and at this time I was based in the mountains near Nepal.
I was very lucky very fortunate that during my time in Afghanistan I actually deployed on a certain mission or an operation and the overall operation and within two months in there was more help or manpower required on another operation and I was based in Baskin for a long time and then went on to Kandahar and then I was selected to go and be one of the guys that helped out on a different mission.
The previous one was purely on an operation where they were trying to disrupt the Taliban structure. But we were also infiltrating the narcotic trade because the narcotic trade is what helps fund the Taliban, so the growth of opium that they sell on the borders and around the world they fund to pay the soldiers ammunition and all kinds like that. My mission was a bit of both of that.
This late mission came and the brief was given the next day and it was a very, very remarkable day in history. The 20th August was the first day of three elections that Afghanistan had in many years and intelligence came through that there is actually quite a well renowned IED facilitator and this is hard to say.
This guy has actually made a name for themselves. It’s a way he makes the IEDs and there’s a signature of the way he facilitates and makes IEDs.
It’s an improvised explosive device.
They work in a few different ways and the very first ones a few years back before 2009 it would be like a landmine. You’d step on a pressured plate, and it would explode underneath you.
It then went on to what they call a wire system, so we figured out ways to manage the ones you step on and avoid them, then then they improvised it to actually have a wire running from where they planted all the way to a safe place for them and someone would observe whether you drive or walk and when you’re coming close over the IED they’d put a battery and then this electric shock would set the IED off.
Then even to further advance beyond that was a cell phone, calling a code or sending a signal to the device to go off.
So really advanced stuff that happened in the course of a couple of months not years of how the Taliban integrated to the degree of the facilities of these IEDs. So this guy we were after was one of them, constantly renewing and almost like upgrading these IEDs and he was well renowned in our community.
We had very good intelligence that he was in a specific area and that he was actually planning on sending a number of suicide bombers out to disrupt for these guys to go to voting stations and disrupt the votes.
We had a very good briefing, every individual had specific tasks and that night I was given the task of being attached to a sniper. I was a helping hand to a sniper so I played a sharpshooter’s role and I immediately went back and then that requires my military kit to change all the time.
So where I keep certain ammunition, what weapon system I will be using. So changing pouches for different magazine holders and the whole setup again and what job I was going to be able to do. So can I carry most on my front or on my back to be able to crawl and in this case I was going to be carrying a ladder on my back.
You see these ladders in B&Q telescopic ladders, we had these ladders and we connected a backpack to that.
Basically you carry them like a backpack and that was my job that night to assist the sniper and we were going to be overwatch for the guys conducting the operation. So we went away to make sure my kit was correct and I think about 11 o’clock, 1130 that night, we operated mostly in the cover of darkness.
We flew out and it was about a good hour and a half flight from where we were and it was a quick and simple mission. This guy was a high-value target and we needed to catch him immediately so our helicopter landed outside the outskirts of the village where he was going to be and I remember the special forces guy actually abseiled straight onto the building that they knew he was in.
To a degree an element of surprise but also we can do it in a different way and land 10 miles out and then slowly walk in using the cover of darkness to our ability.
This time a decision was made, I think we just needed this individual so badly that we couldn’t take the risk of actually landing further out and potentially getting spotted. So we went full guns blazing onto his roof and tried to capture him and we all got the mission and that’s what happened. The SAS guys did exactly what they needed to do.
Very successful operation, we captured the guy and the 10 individuals sadly, young teenagers that he had for a number of weeks, groomed them and convinced them to wear a vest to blow themselves up. We also got the suicide vests which was amazing.
No one was killed because these guys are actually more valuable to us alive to get information and infiltrate the rest of the network and to see how they make the facility, the IEDs.
So loads of intelligence comes from this. At this stage we had these guys tied up in a line and guiding them through the streets and we were heading into the desert where the helicopters were going to pick us up.
We do this as a safety precaution so there are no nearby buildings where someone will fire a bullet or an RPG, rocket grenade to the helicopter and bring us down. We usually do a really good 15, 18 miles into a very safe area, so we’re on our way out and it was about a good hour into the walk a call came over the radio and it was the pilot he said, the allocated landing site he wasn’t happy with. Something spooked him.
He gave us coordinates for a new pick up point. The only trouble with that is we knew the route from the village to the original pick up point was a clear route, we weren’t going to come across anything that wasn’t buildings nearby all that stuff, it was quite a safe route. Now we’re going into the unknown.
From that very moment we had to move into an unproven route we haven’t done reconnaissance of or aerial photographs of what it might be and it led us into a small, built-up area.
So about half an hour later to the pick up point we spotted some movement of a few guys at the patrolling information and that we couldn’t identify weapons on them just silhouettes so we went down on one knee. We work very closely with some of the Afghan forces. They speak the language so we send them forward to tell these guys we’re in the area we need to conduct searches and we will be on our way. We need to make sure they’re safe and harmless to us and then we will move on.
Harms: How many of you were there in this group?
Jaco: We differentiate between a small group of us, a number of special forces guys and a number of Afghan soldiers, so around 30.
Harms: In my mind I’ve only seen this in movies and of course in the movies there is a group of three or four guys. But 30 people, this is a unit.
Jaco: It really is true and now if you think about it, to paint the picture in the desert we’re all walking behind each other and this is basic day one training, when you’re in a long line and if someone in front of you steps on a landmine you can’t be all bundled up as that will take out three, four, five you.
You’ve got to be spread out. You have anything between seven and 10 metres between the guy in front of you and the same with the guy behind you. You can just imagine how long this line is.
Dr Ro: 200 metres probably.
And as silent as you possibly can.
It was difficult because and I’m so glad it wasn’t my task that night because we had a number of detainees and these guys are blindfolded and handcuffed, but you have to guide these guys in total darkness and they haven’t got a clue. They can’t see the next step and that’s quite a difficult task as well, but we’ve got these two lines headed up a small reverie and we spotted these guys on the high ground.
At this stage, the Afghan soldiers moved forward and we went down on one knee and we’ve got lasers covering everything. We were covering our arcs and they were shouting a number of commands and you could hear conversations like this sounds a bit there’s a lot of conflict going on and certainly there was a big spray of AK-47 in our general direction and these guys dropped quickly.
There were a few of the guys helping to cover them but very soon they got neutralised but then from another location someone was firing in our direction and then there was another one. So all these little firing points started to appear because when you fire the gun you can see the muzzle flash in the darkness.
You can hear the bullets but you can see muzzle flashes from various locations which were unknown to us. We walked into a Taliban training stronghold which we didn’t know was in the area. So we walked straight into the hornets nest and when we approached these guys and then they opened fire on us and that set off the whole thing.
So about 40 minutes in which there is a severe fire fight, again you think of a movie it literally is a movie scene with explosions going off everywhere, bullets everywhere and we had to call in support a number of times. We had a C1 30 big plane and it cruises around on top of you and it comes in to give support to you as troops on the ground.
Dr Ro: So the people you’re detaining are there, you’re having to manage that as well as go through the whole process of defending yourself and re-attacking.
Jaco: You’re there to try and lay down fire, give yourself protection and your comrades protection.
These guys were trying to run away and they couldn’t see, but luckily they were all attached to each other.
One would start to run one way and fall to the ground, so it was controlling that situation and controlling the fire situation, and you’re trying to listen to the radio where everything is and where people are. It comes back to training you just zone out.
You compartmentalise, so at this moment I need to know what’s going on the radio. Some sense will go back to the phone. I’ve got the information, the next thing I need to do is lay down fire for my sniper partner to put on a fresh magazine as he just ran out of bullets.
Okay do that job well, he’s back in. I can now go back into safety, the detainees are there, so your training kicks in.
Dr Ro: Is it like a hyperfocus sense of awareness?
Jaco: Yeah and during training you go through drops over and over and over again to the point where you find it irritating when your instructor goes we’re going to go over the weapon system one more time and you’re like, no I know this weapon inside out.
You go through each and every scenario one million times but when you’re in the scenario suddenly it clicks because I was going through a drill to put on a magazine without even thinking about it, muscle memory, and stuff just happened.
There were times where I surprised myself, I just did that very quickly, correctly and safely and okay, I can carry on with the job that’s needed.
Dr Ro: How self-aware are you at that point, Jaco? Is there fear or is it just that moment, action?
Can you multitask emotionally at that point?
Jaco:Yeah you can and again this is where your training kicks in because honestly I remember it. 19th August at this moment in time we’re back in early morning of 20th August about 2 o’clock in the early morning, and I was in this firefight and just to come back to your question there once that bullet flies over your head or you pull that first trigger and the sound of that bullet leaving that chamber something switches in you and it’s like right we’re on.
Everything just happens and you know what you are doing, no distractions.
You go into this whole like you were born to be there, you’ve trained to be there. I was going through this time and it was the 20th of August and it was my 23rd birthday and I was literally firing these bullets off and I was thinking this is the best birthday ever.
Suddenly I realised that it’s my birthday and I was thinking who else can spend their birthday firing at the enemy and being in a firefight. I almost had this little laugh and smile on my face and I remember actually the information coming through the radio that they were trying to outflank us and I was right at the back and they were coming really close to where I was.
I had a UGL and underslung grenade launcher on my weapon and I was like I can put one of the bigger bullets in, fire them off and it’s a very accurate shot and a small explosion it creates. But it was enough of a reaction to the enemy to know they’ve been hit and then we can direct our fire to them at the time, but I was going through the emotions and it is all second nature.
I remember very clearly my sniper partner calling, magazine and when you shout magazine it means you’re either low or out of bullets and then what you do is up the rate of fire to actually not give the enemy the idea that someone is out of fire and putting on a magazine.
What I do is instead of firing a bullet every couple of seconds I would fire every second, I up the rate of my firing. So it sounds like it’s still two guys firing but it’s actually just one.
I was very closely situated to one of the an Afghan soldiers and he was a PKN, a machine gun and he was doing a really great, but what happened was that the as he was firing his machine gun was spitting out a really big flame at the front of the nozzle of the machine gun.
He was actually again showing where he was and to rocket propelled grenades was then fired from my left side and one came over our heads and the second one was fired low, bouncing and ricocheting and I think he was the target as he was identified with the flame from the machine gun.
They fired it towards him but they are very inaccurate weapon systems, it’s something you put on your shoulder and point it in the general direction and sometimes it’s a bit of a lottery whether you hit something or not.
Harms: I guess that’s the kind of visually famous weapon that we would have all seen in the media. There’s a tube on someone’s shoulder and that’s the rocket being propelled.
Jaco: Exactly that.
So two of these were fired so at this moment I saw the first one coming over our heads and the second one was bouncing and ricocheting off the ground and heading in our general direction. I can see this red glow heading towards me and the sound of the rocket, it’s a horrible sound, it’s something I will never forget.
The sound just got louder and louder and I was like this is going to hit me and in a very split-second reaction I twisted my back and my head. My job was carrying these telescopic ladders and luckily I had that on my back and as I twisted my back to the rocket it made impact on the ladders and that detonated the warhead, the explosion and part of the blast ripped my left arm off immediately.
I was thrown about a couple metres up in the air and then away from my original position and I landed really badly and I remember waking up really dazed, very confused and seeing bits of shrapnel still burning on fire all around me and actually on my clothes as well.
I just didn’t know what happened and I was on fire and I was patting myself out and all I could hear was the guys in the background still firing and all I was thinking was I need to get back into the fight, why am I on the ground? I should be covering fire and I was struggling to get back up.
There was a huge struggle and suddenly I realised my left arm was gone.
Again, it’s like this movie moment where everything just slowed down, the whole world. I just looked at my arm and this bloody mess and then I was like right I need to try to do something with that and I carried a tourniquet on my chest on my body armour. I ripped it off and I started trying to tie my left arm but I couldn’t do it tight enough and I was then going through the emotions of real back pain and shock.
Very luckily one of my teammates recognised I was out of position and crawled over he helped me with the tourniquet but what happened as well that on my left side the rocket hit my radio, so that wasn’t working, I had no communication with any of the team and luckily he radioed in saying that I’ve been hit and we need a medic.
Very soon I received life-saving medical treatment from my friend and a medic that came in and I remember he said do the tourniquet up he’s still bleeding from the arm, you’ve got to do it tighter and the pain was unbelievable to try and squeeze every single bit of your arteries down to the bone to stop the bleeding.
I’ve never felt pain like that in my life. My friend said to me I remember him visiting me in the hospital months later he said, Jaco that night I thought I was going to break your arm, the little bit you had left.
He said the medic kept telling me to tighter, tighter I was twisting this tourniquet surely, it’s enough but it wasn’t. one twist more, one twist more. At this stage I was numb to the pain and I was conscious and I remember clearly this horrific pain going through my leg, especially my ankle and I was like, have I lost my leg?
I was like doc my leg really hurts, do I have my leg? He was like yes.
I was like are you sure, the pain is so bad. He said Jaco your leg is there we need to look at your arm and any other areas that you’re bleeding from.
To be honest the broken ankle was for me my smallest or the least severe injury I had and funny enough how the body referred all my attention to that, apart from I’ve lost my arm.
I’ve got shrapnel on my side which I didn’t even know, I was bleeding from everywhere and my broken ankle was the one thing I remember that night going, that was really painful. To the point where the doc said, Jaco your leg is alright shut up.
There’s so many protocols around it because you don’t want to slow someone’s heart rate down too much, the adrenaline is coming down as well, so it is regulating all that and luckily you’re trained.
All I was saying to myself that night was okay hang on to every word the medic says, if he tells you to blink your eyes, blink your eyes. If he tells you to open your mouth, open your mouth. If he tells you to move just move, he was like that beam of light, I was just staring at him saying whatever you tell me to do I’ll do.
Give me an instruction and I’ll follow it, just don’t let me go. The guys were doing an amazing job at this time the Taliban was getting closer and closer and we were nearly overrun at this stage.
I remember the guys laying over me because at this time we called in another air support and I think it’s till this day, these guys have guidelines of how close they can actually come to enemy forces.
The guy who called the air mission in put his whole career and his life on the line at night because if he didn’t give permission for that fire support to come in as close as it was to us as, it was that close that if there was the smallest mistake from whoever is releasing that fire mission, if they didn’t get the coordinates exactly right that night they were going to kill us instead of the enemy, it was that close.
I remember feeling the ground shiver and moving underneath me and some shrapnel, falling over us and the medic was over me to protect me from that. The moment that bomb ended it was straight back to work with me helping to save my life, then the next significant sound that I will forget was that shinug.
I can identify the sound of a shining in 20 different helicopters that night that was the sound of an angel coming in. It was an American helicopter we couldn’t get the British one in because we have so many helicopters that then they couldn’t take the risk of coming in and getting shot down and they were like you’ve got to look after yourself to a degree until the enemy is neutralised.
I was classed as a high priority casualty.
Luckily, the call was heard by an American helicopter and they were like we’ll come in no drama. I remember the helicopter landing and I was put on a stretcher and ran onto the helicopter.
The very first thing I remember looking up was seeing this guy with a really big helmet speaking into his radio and looking at me shaking his head and I think I was still bleeding from my arm. He just stood with his heel just above my pecks just into my shoulder and all his weight onto my shoulder trying to clamp an artery again, just to stop the bleeding.
He spotted that instantly.
At that point I lost consciousness.
Dr Ro: I want to go back to the point where you’re on your back you look up and you look down you see your arms missing, what’s going on?
What conversation is happening or is it just the noise of everything around you that has cut that out? What’s the mechanism going on to keep you alive at that point? Is it autopilot from the training or is it something else?
Jaco: I think it was a combination of both. There was definitely autopilot from training 100%.
There was a time where I’d play the casualty and a friend of mine so you go through the scenarios over and over again. I always concentrated so much in those lessons and especially the medical ones because I was like this is important, I can save someone’s life if I concentrate. Then I found myself saying I really hope my friend concentrates to save my life.
Dr Ro: Were you suddenly at the hands of somebody else in your mind? Because even though you put the thing around your arm and started that process.
Jaco: I was in this daze, just real confusion and the whole world slows down. But to still have the clear feeling that I need to do something and started the process of putting on a tourniquet.
I’m not saying I did a great job, but I knew there was a process to follow and I was already going through the steps of that. It was that repetitiveness that I was in the save mode. I remember, I said to myself constantly, don’t die.
I wasn’t afraid of dying, it was just for some reason I didn’t want to die on that spot, that Afghan floor. It felt like if I die I was going to be a burden, a hindrance to my teammates and they’re going to have to drag a body here, but if I can be somehow responsive somehow contribute to getting myself out of the situation with my teammates, and as long as I’m alive they’re going to fight to keep me alive.
It gives them the incentive as well to, let’s get out of here.
Dr Ro: The level of responsibility is out of this world, given the highest pressure situation, a limb, the blood, your mind is still operating, shrapnel,broken ankle but the mind is still saying I am just as responsible, I am 100% responsible for my situation and what’s going to happen next step-by-step which is just incredible listening to that.
Harms: Stuff happens on a daily basis and sometimes it just takes that little extra commitment to that moment. It might feel like that, but nothing like this Ro. I get that.
But for some people it does feel like that sometimes something happens on a daily basis and in that person’s world it feels like a big thing and it’s learning to have that in that moment of discipline. It is not being afraid to be present with what you’re facing because you’re there now.
Jaco: It’s so weird and I don’t know if it’s indoctrinated it was even this guy was putting on a tourniquet and the pain was just unbelievable and there’s an element where I was screaming and then I was like no you can’t scream, you need to be quiet.
I was like don’t give your position away but it’s long gone, compromised with the explosion and people around me and stuff like that, but there was still an element of you can’t scream.
We’re still in this element of there are certain protocols you have to follow, but I was in the biggest pain and then I let out little moments of screams but then I kept pulling back saying, you can’t do that.
It’s so difficult to describe where your mind was, it’s like a computer where you are you going through this motion of don’t give your position away, you’ve got to be the perfect soldier and then you’re fighting this other element of my whole world has turned upside down and I’m fighting for my life. It’s finding that balance and I don’t know how I did it, but there was elements where I going in and out between those two, I just need to release some pain or some form of screaming because of the pain and that brough relief, but also like I need to be professional and not scream and not give my position away.
Dr Ro: How were you feeling knowing that there was somebody there right by your side at that moment?
They’re giving up potentially their life whilst looking after you.
The medic and my teammate Reece were there all the time. They’ve given up their safety and security to work on me and help support me.
We’ve just lost three guys myself and two other people out of a firefight, that’s three guys not pulling bullets in the right direction to keep the enemy at bay so the responsibility of the rest of the guys has also heightened to actually go right three guys down we need to step up and make sure that we cover all these basis as well.
You think back on it now and it’s mad how this stuff plays out, some of it is vague and some of it is so clear.
I was having a conversation with somebody who was there that night many months later down the pub with a few beers and what was interesting was how it played out differently for each person and it was amazing and you put all that together how everyone experiences it differently and what they saw and information related to them and some of my best friends were further up the line, but when it came through to them it was like, it doesn’t matter.
But eventually when that information came through that it was Jaco, it was like shit it’s Jaco. They said the feeling they had between when they knew it was me and it wasn’t me was totally different and how they then reacted as well.
They made their way from the front of the fire fight to the back to come back to me to help me get up to the helicopter and there was a shift in them once they heard it was me.
Dr Ro: It shows you how even in extreme situations a sense of bond, a sense of meaning, a sense of connection in that moment, it just takes over.
Which I think people sometimes forget to do that on a daily basis.
We become so consumed in what we’re doing we forget there’s someone else around us. The extreme situation of your friends in a firefight coming back to try and help you that can be translated to somebody who just hasn’t picked up the phone and spoken to family members for six-months because of an ego or an argument or something like that.
Friendship, family and bonds are too important.
Harms: Especially when you’re going through something which is troubling you, challenging you.
That’s when having or reaching out to the person can save your life, quote on quote.
Dr Ro: So you’re in the helicopter what’s happening now?
Jaco: Six days later I woke up.
I’m in an intensive care ward still in a lot of pain and they’ve sedated me, I’ve been kept in a coma for a long while and I’m slowly coming out.
My last clear memory was being in the firefight and losing my arm and suddenly I can see my mother’s face and I’m like, what’s she doing here?
Then I look to the left of her and there’s my sister and these were at the time, probably the two most important people in my life. I just thought I’m in a hospital either Bastian or somewhere in Afghanistan and they’re there and that whole region is extremely dangerous because even Bastion and Kandahar get attacked on a daily basis.
The Taliban will come past and fire a few mortars from the back of a pickup truck and then go off again and the mortar can land anywhere. I was like they can’t be here.
It took a lot of convincing from my family and the doctor and I remember they actually took the brakes off my bed and wheeled me to a window because this was a hospital environment, I could be anywhere, it’s just a hospital.
But my brain was thinking I’m in Afghanistan. They wheeled me to the window and said look you’re back in Birmingham, it’s green outside, there are trees.
There is the British weather, it’s not warm and sunny anymore, you’re back in the UK and that took a lot of time to figure it out. I remember looking down on myself thinking I’ve got this really weird thing on my stomach, my left leg was in a big cast, a big metal frame and just bandages everywhere, my ankle was fused all stuff like that and I was like, what is going on?
Then they started explaining you’ve lost your left arm above the elbow, collapsed lung, shrapnel wounds which punched some of my internal organs which led to having a colostomy for nine months.
I was like what is this thing, I’ve never heard of the word colostomy, and I now have one.
Then my leg, I lost muscle and tissue in my left upper thigh, and the injury was so severe it was touch and go whether they were actually going to amputate the leg above the knee or not, but they were like we’ll do everything we possibly can to keep the leg and I had severe infections in that area.
I fractured my left knee, a big chunk out of my left calf and then the injury that I thought was so horrible that night was the broken ankle that was just so painful and they had to pin my ankle with plates and screws.
I remember my arm and it was like my brain had made peace with it, but the rest of it just blew my mind. This is life changing, this is career changing injuries and that was hard because my body was going.
We need time out here, but my mind was already thinking how do I get back to Afghanistan?
That was a big conflict.
Dr Ro: Was that a thought that hijacked straightaway? As you had your mum there when you came out of the coma that in itself must have been, oh my god he is here. He is awake.
Jaco: bIt was a thought immediately and once I was off enough drugs actually to have a sensible conversation with someone and myself the question was can I get back to Afghanistan?
The first thing I asked the doctor was how long does it take to get a prosthetic?
In my mind it was literally like the leg is a bit screwed but don’t worry we’ll get it sorted I’ll get back to something, no worries. It was the arm, I said, can I have something to be able to pull the rifle, point it in the right direction safely and be accurate and can I do the magazine change all that stuff.
Can I go out and do the job that I like and I love so much?
Dr Ro: Was that driven by the fact that you love what you do and you wanted to be there or was it unconsciously driven by the fact that I need to be able to function because what else if I can’t?
Jaco: It was a combination of both.
The initial thought was the first one was bigger than the latter.
The first one was more like I love what I do so much. It was the lifestyle it was being the guys, it ticked every single box in my life and I didn’t want to give that up and then I think that slowly diminished over the course of days or even hours.
The latter of which I need, I need to get out. I need that. That’s my identity, that’s who I am, that is all I know I can do, if I can’t do that what am I going to do with the rest of my life?
That overrode the first one and that was like I needed to get out and then I was having this battle in my mind and my body was like no chance.
We’ve got bits missing here, colostomy, stuff from your leg we need to chill out and my mind and body are in two different places.
Dr Ro: The reason I ask the question is because as much as what happened to you was without a doubt the moment, that turning point really the thing that defines who you are today is what you did next with that thought process and that wrestle with what’s going on.
Thank you for allowing us to dig a little deeper and go into places which may be not everyone would ask those questions and I feel blessed to do that.
Jaco: It is a pleasure and interesting revisiting some of those spaces to be very honest and I look at it from a different perspective. I haven’t spoken about it for a while and there are even points I can take from it even now on a daily basis.
Thank you for making it so comfortable for me to actually go back to that.
Dr Ro:Is there a personal message you’d like to share with the listeners at this point?
Jaco: I hope the listeners will take something from this and hang on for part two. I think sometimes we just need to reflect as well with what we’ve done and where we’ve come from.
I think sometimes we’re so driven to do everything, to be fast, to be more of this and that and today’s actually opened my eyes because as I was talking I’m taking myself back to these memories but it made me realise just how far I have come in life.
It is actually lovely to reflect back on those memories and those times and I think sometimes we all just need to reflect back on life and how amazing we actually are and how far we have come from any scenario that we’ve faced.
Dr Ro: I’m moved to tears and that is the perfect message. What a gift.
Jaco: That’s Jaco, Ro and myself signing out. We shall see you on part two of the Seekardo podcast.
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