Jared Tjaden: Local veteran exemplifies service to his country

Barlow grad and Sandy resident Tjaden served his country as a Marine for nearly 10 years, including front-line tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan

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By MIKE WILEY
Publisher

Jared Tjaden is a nice-looking, clean cut, local family man. He works as a financial advisor for Edward Jones in Sandy. You may have seen him around the community, at the grocery store, getting gas, or picking up his kids from school.

You probably wouldn’t guess that Tjaden served his country as a Marine for nearly 10 years, including front-line tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Through his military service, he learned key lessons that have helped him in life and business.

Fascinated by dad’s service

Tjaden grew up in Gresham and graduated from Sam Barlow High School in 2003.

His father was a veteran, which got Tjaden interested in military service. As a boy, Tjaden was fascinated with his dad’s service. It was one of the reasons that sparked his desire to join the military, but it wasn’t the only one.

“There are a few reasons why I joined,” says Tjaden. “My dad had a photo album of his time in the Army. When I was growing up, I loved looking through that album all of the time and seeing the tanks and helicopters in his photos. The second reason is kind of funny. I loved the movie Top Gun growing up. I always wanted to be around fighter jets.”

However, it was another deeply emotional experience that confirmed his desire to serve — September 11, 2001. “I saw Tower Two get hit live on TV. I remember that day very well and that day was a major reason I joined the Marine Corps,” said Tjaden.

It was only a few months after high school graduation, that Tjaden made a firm commitment to join. He signed his first service contract in December of 2003, and started Boot Camp in early January, 2004.

His choice of military branch, however, was a bit of a surprise to his family. He chose the Marines.

“I don’t think [enlisting itself] was a surprise to my folks. I had spoken to the Army and Air Force. [However], if anything, my folks probably thought I was going to join the Air Force, so the Marine Corps might have been a bit of a surprise to them. I remember my dad got really serious and wanted to know what contract I was signing. I’m not sure what Mom was thinking back then. She always seems to play it cool even when she’s nervous or scared,” said Tjaden.

Marine Boot Camp

One of the unnerving prospects for potential military recruits is Boot Camp. For the Marines, boot camp is longer and tougher than for the other service branches. It is 12 weeks compared to the Army’s 10, and even shorter for the other services.

Marine recruits are inducted either at Parris Island, South Carolina or San Diego, California. One of the famous sights greeting recruits at either of the induction facilities are rows of yellow footprints painted on the grounds, marking all of the recruits that have gone before them.

“I’ll never forget those yellow footprints and the feeling of butterflies I had in my stomach,” said Tjaden.

Like most recruits, he found boot camp basic training to be a challenge.

“Basic [training] was long! Twelve and half weeks! Our Drill Instructors didn’t let up until graduation. It was the first time I was away from home and felt like my life wasn’t my own. But I rebelled in my own way,” said Tjaden smiling. “I used to steal packets of peanut butter at dinner or lunch and then hide them in my cargo pockets until night time. Then I’d have to hide the empty packet at the bottom of the garbage in the middle of the night.”

However, overall, Tjaden embraced the challenge.

“I worked hard in Boot Camp. Early on I was in charge of all of the rifles in the platoon. I was the only one who didn’t get fired throughout the 12 weeks and I earned a meritorious promotion to [the rank of] PFC.”

Boot camp is followed by training in the recruit’s area of specialization. Tjaden’s training was as a Radio Operator. After a six week training course, he was assigned to serve with the Combat Engineers.

Tjaden said, “I graduated from Radio Operator School at the end of June that year (2004) and deployed overseas in February, 2005 to Iraq. I went to Iraq in February of ’05 and then to Afghanistan March of ’11.”

Deployed

The living conditions were different in Afghanistan from what they were in Iraq.

“In Iraq I was based at Ayn al Asad Air Base. It was the largest base in the province. It was also the place where Saddam Hussein trained his Olympic teams. That base had all the amenities; PX, Burger King and Pizza Hut, and a phone center. [On the other hand], in Afghanistan we were pushed forward in support of the infantry. I basically lived in a tent for that entire deployment,” said Tjaden.

“[The weather in] both places was similar. Hot desert and dry. Iraq was hotter and I survived a couple sand storms there. Afghanistan was high desert so it got cold and even rained,” Tjaden said.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, Tjaden and his fellow Marines faced hazards from hostile forces as well as from booby traps like Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

“In Iraq our mission there was to repair the Military Supply Route (MSR) from all of the IED explosions. When we got there, it would take all day just to travel a short distance — like five miles — because of all the damage. By the time we left we had that MSR running pretty smoothly.”

“In Afghanistan they had [IEDs] too. I actually spotted one on the road right by one of the FOB.’s (Forward Operating Bases) we were entering. It was literally right outside my window. That one ended up getting set off by a stray donkey right after we entered the FOB. I’d say we got lucky with that one,” recalled Tjaden.

Tjaden was awarded a Combat Action Ribbon for his service in Afghanistan. He said, “I was more of an observer to the battle than a participant. We had a vehicle break down right outside our FOB. I was instructed to post security along with some others in my platoon. The Afghan National Army was in a skirmish with the Taliban in a corn field right off the road where we were. I witnessed two of the Taliban enter a home across the field and they started harassing us and our FOB with sniper fire. I don’t think they were trained because they didn’t hit anything but the big dirt hill behind us. Eventually a Mobile Infantry Unit came by and blew up the building with a TOW missile.”

Losses

One of the most challenging aspects of service for Tjaden and most veterans is the memories of comrades who were injured or killed in combat.

“In Iraq we lost our First Sergeant, Michael S. Barnhill, to an IED,” said Tjaden. “First Sergeant Barnhill was a man of huge stature and a warriors’ warrior. I had the upmost respect for him. He was also a father and husband who was set to retire at the end of our deployment. I remember, while in Kuwait, some other Marines who were not in our company stole some gear from us. [First Sergeant Barnhill] went toe to toe with the other company’s First Sergeant and won. He had no doubts about the integrity of his Marines and we had no doubts about his ability to look out for us. I think about him often. I was only 19 at the time and until that point still felt invincible for the most part. That made me grow up really quick.”

Gains

Overall, Tjaden sees his service as a very positive experience, especially in learning key lessons for life. “The military taught me about the importance of integrity, hard work, and mission accomplishment,” said Tjaden.

“The Marine Corps is like any other large organization. You will always have bosses who are tough on you. The lessons you can learn from the bad ones are things not to do, but ‘tough’ doesn’t always mean bad either.”

“I had many leaders in the Marine Corps who demanded the best out of me and they weren’t shy about letting me know when I wasn’t performing. They weren’t shy about letting me know when I was performing, too. It was this integrity in my leaders that motivated me and helped my decision in re-enlisting [for a second tour].”

What did Tjaden see as the hardest thing about being in the military? “The running,” he laughs. “I hate running long distance and the Marine Corps is all about long distance running.”

Life after service

Tjaden says that like most of his fellow soldiers, he thought often about life after the service. “I think just about every young man does when he is serving. I knew I didn’t want to serve an entire career in the military because I knew I wanted to raise a family a certain way and that way wouldn’t work while serving,” said Tjaden.

Tjaden says that being in the corps was a lot like being married — to the corps. “It was kind of like that. I learned early that the Marine Corps was going to demand a lot out of me, so I never dated seriously… until I did. And when I found her, my Sara, I separated myself from the Marine Corps.”

Tjaden appreciates the time he served. He regards it as a stepping stone for what future life has in store for him.

“You know, I am glad for the time I had in the service, but it wasn’t the peak of who I am to be. I took a lot of lessons from there and used my service time as a launching pad for the rest of my life. I think that’s what serving is all about. You give your time and serve your country and then you go serve in other ways.” HVN

The cover inset photo of Tjaden is courtesy of J. Tjaden.

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