Podcast: Jacob Bridge
We are proud to release the first episode in our new Courage to Resist podcast series. This inaugural edition features Marine officer turned conscientious objector Jacob Bridge-Maier. With the support of Courage to Resist, Jake was honorably discharged in 2015.
Jacob Bridge: I was really exhausted by how much I had to fight the people I work for to get them to recognize their own Marines as human beings. And it really started bothering me that if we can’t recognize our own Marines as human beings, and equal, how are we gonna be to go to other countries and do the same?
Eric Klein: That’s Jake Meyer. He was a young officer in the Marines, in 2014.
Jacob Bridge: And then I was like, “Well, we’re not our we?” Because we keep killing civilians. Nobody cares. We’re still in Iraq when we should never have been there in the first place. And we’re clearly not seeing everybody as human beings. So then I started getting really uncomfortable. And I decided conscientious objection was the only route for me to go because I’d realized the organization was not gonna change. And I could no longer be a part of it because I could no longer be even a teeny tiny cog in a big machine that’s responsible for killing civilians, has no accountability, and basically dehumanizes everyone and everything it comes in touch with.
Eric Klein: Jake was part of the fleet Marine force in Hawaii. He was in his mid 20s, and coming to a realization that the course he had been on his entire adult life no longer made sense to him.
Jacob Bridge: At that point, we had been in Iraq for about ten or eleven years, and had basically done nothing, except kill people, and lot of civilians; and really just kind of stabilized everything in that region. And we should never have been there in the first place. That’s what really, really blew my mind, was that we should never have been there in the first place. Everybody knows it, and yet, we’re still there. And it was kind of insane to me. It would kind of be like if a plumber came to your house, messed up all the plumbing in your house, and then stayed there for eleven years trying to fix it.
Eric Klein: At that point in his life, Jake Meyer, who was known then as First Lieutenant Jacob Bridge, of the US Marine Corp, decided that he needed to seek conscientious objector status. So he took the first step in a long process of leaving the military.
Jacob Bridge: And I was very involved in my process because I had educated myself so much on it, and it’s such a rare thing for officers to do. I think I actually, I haven’t been able to get the numbers on this, and I’ve tried. I may be the only officer who’s filed, the only Marine Corp officer who’s filed for conscientious objector status.
Eric Klein: This is the first episode in a new podcast called Courage to Resist, from the organization of the same name. Courage to Resist started in the early years of the Iraq war, to support military war objectors, beck when Jake Meyer was just a teenager. Nearly a decade later, as a disillusioned Marine looking for a way out, Jake took a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, aimlessly seeking out people in the anti-war movement, where he met members of Courage to Resist.
Jacob Bridge: It was this crazy random trip to San Francisco with no plans. And I basically came away with the connections that would sustain me and get me through the next five months, where I thought I had no way of making it through.
Eric Klein: Along his journey, Jake discovered, to his surprise, that he had a lot in common with Chelsea Manning.
Jacob Bridge: I listened to her describe the events that are shown on that video clip of the border team being blasted by the, I think, AC10 or whatever. And I listened to her describe why it made her angry, why it made her sick, why she did what she did, and I had this incredible “holy shit” moment where I was like, “That’s me. Those are things that I say. Those are the things I think. That’s my voice coming through Chelsea Manning, somebody I never thought I would ever agree with.” And so that was this paradigm shift where I was like, “Wow. What does it mean if I agree with Chelsea Manning?”
Eric Klein: Jake wrote to Chelsea Manning, and he got a surprising response. More on that later. I’m Eric Klein, and this is the Courage to Resist podcast. Jake Meyer and I spoke in April of 2017. He’s been out of the Marines for almost two years now. He’s currently in the midst of getting his graduate degree from NYU. Jake is involved with Iraq Veterans Against the War, IVAW, and Veterans for Peace, but for the time being, he’s devoting all his energy to earning his degree, a Master’s in Social Work.
Jacob Bridge: It’s going well. It’s been busy, certainly. I mean, it’s a big change. It’s a big gear shift from the military lifestyle. It’s a very feminine field. There’s just a lot of women. So, I go from the masculine male dominated field with very few women, to the exact flip side, where there’s like maybe three men in a 20 person class, which is refreshing, but it’s different. It’s really different. And the coursework is, of course, more personal. And it’s a lot more introspective, which I really love. And you get to work with people in a way that I thought I was gonna get in the military, but you don’t.
Eric Klein: I asked Jake about what he was like when he was younger. He officially joined the military after college in 2011, but he was seeking a means to transform himself. And he jumped into what he calls “the pipeline,” pretty much right out of high school.
Jacob Bridge: In middle school, I was bullied a lot. And I really struggle with that. And high school was kind of like a fresh start. I made new friends. I was able to really kind of bloom and pick up Lacrosse, and just kind of really come into my own. So high school was a lot of fun. I was kind of class clownish. I was athletic. And I had a lot of friends.
But I think, during that time, also, my father kept having to relocate because he was struggling with jobs. 9/11 had happened several years before that. My parents were divorced since I was young, and I was struggling with managing my relationships with both parents, because it seems like it wasn’t possible to do; have good relationships with both of them at once, at least, I couldn’t figure it out.
And I think, at some point, probably in sophomore year of high school, I just started getting really interested in the military and the Army because … It’s hard for me to understand, but a lot of me thinks that having been bullied so hard for so many years really made me want to chase that masculine ideal, to kind of prove that I wasn’t all those things that people have called me.
And so I looked at the Army and, initially, I was really considering joining the Army. But then, I had heard about the Marines, and the Marines have this incredible reputation. And it’s so macho. And it’s the best of the best, and the few and the proud, and all that. And so there was that aspect of it that really attracted to me to; the challenge, wanting to prove that I’m a man, that I’m strong, that I’m the best, that I’m not this sniveling booger, or whatever. It was the one of nicknames is “booger.” And I’m trying to prove that to other people, but also, mostly myself, to see if I could make it.
It wasn’t really about protecting my country. I think it was more about, “Can I survive this?” But there was also the element of good versus evil because that was the narrative being pushed. “They hate us for our freedom.”
Living in New Jersey, so close to the city, there’s a spot right near where I live called Washington Rock, which is a lookout spot where General George Washington was supposed to have posted up and surveyed the landscape. And from that spot, you can see where the towers were, so you could see the smoke billowing, and it was this very poignant thing for my area. And I didn’t know anybody who had died in 9/11, but everybody knew somebody who knew someone. So it was very close to home.
So there was that aspect of it too. Like, not on my front yard. And again, it was like that good versus evil, like, feeling like also that I had to earn the privileges and the freedoms I’m given, as an American. I felt ashamed of having been born into this without having really earned it, I felt. So that also made me feel like I need to make my bones, or whatever the phrase is. I need to really work hard, harder for the freedoms; essentially, risk my life to earn the title of being an American, I guess.
Eric Klein: After high school, Jake attended the University of Colorado, where he did Naval ROTC with the Marine option.
Jacob Bridge: It was like a lot of things, I just tried to fit in. It was a new club for me to join. And it was a lot of people I wanted to impress. And I just tried to learn the rules and fit in, really, because I had never really been able to do that. It was very difficult for me. And I wasn’t good at it, at first. I wasn’t very good at running. I wasn’t very good at doing pull ups.
So the first couple years were hard. But I started making friends, and I started doing the extra curriculars. I, very much, looked up to all the enlisted guys that were in the ROTC program too, because this was 2007, 2008, and they had already been back.
These guys had been to Iraq once or twice, and Afghanistan once or twice, some of them. And they were considered the best of the best of the best because they were selected to become officers. So they were basically the cool kids. So you really just tried to learn and soak up everything you could from them. And a lot of them were really great and I learned a lot from them about the core values of honor, courage, and commitment. So you just really look up to them and try emulate them as best you can.
And, eventually, I did get better at running. I did get better at all of the physical stuff. I started picking things up and working my way up through the ranks, as it were. And then, by the time I was a senior, I ended up, during my last semester of college, I was the student battalion commander for the entire Naval ROTC battalion. I was very proud of that because I just kind of proved to myself that I could succeed at this kind of thing, and I could be good at it. And I got a perfect physical fitness score in my last semester, which is something I never thought was possible.
So to me, it was like I could be part of this club that I never thought I could be part of. And I felt like I was doing well at it, and I was learning so much from all these people, and I trusted all of these guys that I was learning from. And so, it felt great. It felt like I was finally part of something that I had been looking for, for a long time.
And at the time, I still believe, very much, in the mission. I believed in the people I was working with. And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the enlisted guys that are going thought his program with you, like I said, they are selected. It’s a rigorous selection process for them to become officers, so you’re really seeing the best of the Marine Corp. And they told me that, too. They said, “Look, you’re not gonna be working with guys like us. People like us, there’s like one of every five, maybe. So, the majority of people you work with are not gonna be as dedicated or as serious about this.”
And I was just kind of like, “Ah, whatever. As long as I get in the Marines, everything will be fine.” And that turned out to be true, in the end.
Eric Klein: Jake was about to find out that the Marine Corp that he had wanted to join to be a part of something bigger than himself, was very different from the reality of the job he had signed up for. But at this point, he was still optimistic about his future with the Marines.
Jacob Bridge: When I graduated college, I graduated top of my class. I got a couple of awards upon graduation. And I was just riding this high like, “This is gonna be great. Training is gonna be hard, but I’m gonna do well. And I’m fitting in. This is working.” The prestige was, I supposed, addictive, in a way.
So when you graduate from ROTC, you basically are commissioned upon graduation, so you’re technically in the Marine Corp, but you don’t start getting paid until you go to this six month training school called the Basic School, which is where every Marine officer must go to learn the basics of infantry. Because every Marine needs to know how to be an infantry man. That’s like the hallmark of the Marine Corp. Everybody has a specialty, but at the baseline, we’re all trained to be infantry men. Or, in the case of officers, infantry platoon commanders.
So I graduated August of 2011. And then, that following March, 2012, I went to TBS, The Basic School, which is the six month school in Quantico, Virginia. So there was some couple gaps there, where I had to take odd jobs. But in March, 2012, is when I really started the real Marine training.
Eric Klein: And that was in Virginia. And were you still feeling a sense of accomplishment and belonging?
Jacob Bridge: Yes and no. It was a different group of people because it was guys and girls from all over the country who are just graduated. So I was kind of out of my element, a little bit, in that way. It’s like you go from a big fish in a small pond, to a smaller fish in a big pond, kind of deal. But I applied myself, and I worked my butt off. But I started seeing a little bit of what those guys were talking about, what they warned me about.
I started seeing that people were less concerned … The walking the walk and talking the talk, people would say things and they would behave a certain way when they were being analyzed or when they were being evaluated. But once the eyes were off them, they’d behave a different way. And I could see that, for a lot of people, this “honor, courage, commitment” stuff, this ethical morality, the emphasis on that, wasn’t really there for them like it was for me.
For me, I approached it like, “I owe it to the people I’m gonna lead. I owe it to the people who I’m gonna be, potentially, killing. I owe it to them to be as ethical and morally prepared as possible, to be as physically prepared as possible, to never stop changing and pushing and growing.” I took that seriously. And I could tell that there were not as many people as I would have liked who took it as seriously. I think a lot of people just kind of looked at it like, “This will be a good job. And it might set me up for my future,” more than really kind of understanding that this is a life and death thing for the people you will lead, and for the people who will be on the other side of you, across from you.
Eric Klein: Yeah.
Jacob Bridge: I started seeing that kind of behind closed doors behavior.
Eric Klein: Yeah. Is there anything specific?
Jacob Bridge: I think I was just kind of appalled by the strip club mentality that a lot of these guys had. The amount of drinking. I mean, I could drink. And I drank a lot. But just the stupid drinking. Like, passing out in public. Doing outrageous stuff. And not obeying simple things like curfews or whatever. Or even like doing drugs. They could get away with it. That kind of stuff really got to me, because I could tell this is not, that’s not what you’re supposed to be doing. If the people you were in charge of were doing that, you’d hammer them. You’d come down hard of them. And here you are, doing those things. And it just didn’t seem, to me, like people were really taking it as seriously as I was.
You know, you heard about cheating on tests and cheating on land navigation courses, and stuff like that. And it was just that kind of stuff. It felt like it diminished all the effort I put into what I was doing.
Oh yeah. And the homophobia and racism, too, that you would get from some of these kids was really bad. And I was bad too. I mean, I still had my issues, but I was definitely worse then. But even so, I was still kind of shocked at some people. I knew one guy who was basically talking about miscegenation, interracial marriage. He was totally against it. And here was this guy who was gonna lead a diverse crew of Marines. And he was openly talking about racist stuff. And I was like, “Wow. Okay.” And, of course, sexism, and misogyny, and all the homophobic slurs that were thrown around were just kind of like a shock.
Eric Klein: I would imagine that you assumed that once you finished this step in the process and moved forward, that maybe you’d leave these people behind, and things could get better.
Jacob Bridge: Well yeah. Yeah, that was kind of the idea, ’cause everybody said, “Training sucks. Training is the worst. But once you get to the real Marine Corp, with they call the Fleet, the Fleet Marine Corp. Once you get to the real Marine Corp, everything is great. It’s the best. You get to work with Marines. You’re not always training. You get your platoon. And everything is just gravy. It’s all good.”
So I was just kind of like, “I gotta push through this training nonsense. I just gotta grind it out, do as best I can. And then I get to the Marine Corp, everything will be awesome.” Kind of, that was the mentality.
Eric Klein: So how did reality match up?
Jacob Bridge: I realized why people said training sucked so much. And it’s because when you’re doing training, there’s always eyes on you. Well, there’s eyes on you a lot of time, which means you always have to be pushing and doing the best you can and being held to a higher standard.
But when you’re not in that environment, when you’re in the real Marine Corp and you’re kind of on your own, you can let that kind of stuff slide. It becomes a job. It’s not this high pressure … I mean, it’s always high pressure and there’s a lot of nonsense you deal with, but you don’t have to try as hard, because you made it.
And when I saw that, that really, really got to me. Just the idea that somebody wouldn’t always be trying to be as physically fit as possible. For some reason, to me, that was like, “Why not?” Why wouldn’t you push yourself that way? Or why wouldn’t you be honest? Why wouldn’t you hold your integrity to the highest standards? The idea that people weren’t constantly pushing for growth and, I guess, pushing towards perfection, or at least, towards improvement, really bothered. Because I took that to heart.
I was always trying to better myself in any way I could find; whether it was in therapy, or whether I was exercising, it was just constantly about trying to improve myself for the Marines that I was gonna lead, and to prepare myself for whatever mission I would be given, so that I basically wouldn’t fuck it up. And I could just tell that that mentality really wasn’t there for a lot of people.
Eric Klein: So where does this story go next?
Jacob Bridge: So I mean, I got to the Marine Corp. I was stationed in Marine Corp Bay Hawaii, which is in Kailua, the eastern coast of Oahu. Kaneohe, I mean, Kaneohe Bay, is what it’s called. And I got there in late February 2013. And it didn’t take me long to realize that I was just kind of miserable. I felt like, again, I didn’t people walking the talk, walking the walk, and all that. It was like, you send up reports, and instead of telling people what’s actually going on, you just kind of tell them what they want to hear.
I was really disturbed by that. I was disturbed by the way I saw superior officers treating their Marines, whether those Marines were junior officers or enlisted. I was really disturbed by that, the lack of respect going from high rank to low rank. But it was hard for me to acknowledge that because I was just always kind of in this mentality that I’m gonna love the Marine Corp. It’s gonna be great.
So it was really hard for me to accept that like, “I hate this. I really don’t like it. And it’s not me.” It’s not just me, it’s this organization is not an organization that I like. And that was hard for me to accept. And luckily, I started therapy within weeks upon arrival because I just make a habit of always seeing a therapist. It helps me process stuff. So after a couple months, I was able to admit, like, “Wow. I really don’t like this.”
I had this one officer who, my last name used to be Bridge. And people tend to add an S onto Bridge, so it always became Bridges. And this one officer, he refused to pronounce my name correctly. And I had to correct him several times. And then, one time, this was just a small example, but one time, I corrected him in front of my peers, and just kind of said, “Whatever,” and blew it off. And somebody brought it to my attention afterward, that that was really disrespectful towards me. I was like, “Wow. You’re right. That is really disrespectful.” And when I called that officer out on it later, he made it sound like I was in the wrong because I wanted him to pronounce my name correctly.
And it was just small stuff like that. And hearing, again, hearing the homophobic slurs being thrown around. And just seeing like, the emphasis on the morality and the ethics that I thought I was gonna see, was not there. And the emphasis on improvement and self motivation, I just didn’t see it. And again, seeing how some of these officers would treat the people they were in charge of was just really kind of devastating, to me.
So after a couple of months, I realized, “Holy crap. I hate this. I really am just not having a good time. I’m kind of miserable.” But then, it was just like, “Okay, well I just gotta survive. I’ll be done in 2016, early 2016, so I’ll just let that go.”
But, towards the end of 2013, as I was getting more and more frustrated, I started talking with my therapist about conscientious objection, because I had heard about it. Somebody in my unit had done it right when I got there. And so, I started thinking about it. This was like October of 2013. But I wasn’t ready yet. I knew it. Because I hadn’t had a platoon yet. I was stuck in this staff position, which is a real bummer. It’s like the least fun position. High stress, very little enjoyment.
But i thought to myself that I just want to get a platoon. I want to have 30 or 40 people working for me so I can just kind of mentor these young kids. Because they’re all gonna be like 17 to 20 something years old. And I want to be a part of their life. I want to be a positive influence. I want to learn who they are. I want to try and lead them as best I can. And I want to have that opportunity.
So I kind of talked with her about it, but then we shelved it. And I got my platoon right around that same time. And I just kind of fell in love with it and kind of forgot about how miserable I was, because I was so engrossed with learning who these people were, sitting down with them, getting their stories, training them, working with them every day, and just kind of learning as much as I could.
So I kind of just forgot. And I just enjoyed that. I really enjoyed being a platoon commander. And then, in January of 2014, I was on a small training exercise on the big island, with just 10 of my Marines, I think, something like that. And this one Marine who was, far and away, the best Marine in my platoon, he and I were just working out together. He was teaching me some gymnastics stuff because I was trying to learn hand stands and all kinds of ring work. And he was a gymnast.
And he came out to me and told me that he was gay. And I was really, I was kind of honored that he would tell me that, as a straight person. As a straight person, and as an officer, because that really means that he trusted me. So I was just kind of patting myself on the back about that. But then I was like, “Wait. Have you ever told any other officers that you’re gay?” And he said, “No.”
And I was doing the math, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, I think, was repealed in September of 2012. Or maybe it was 11, 2011. So this was about three years after that. And I said, “Well, it’s been so long. It’s been a couple years. How come you still haven’t really come out about it?” And he was like, “Well, things haven’t really changed all that much.” And so I was like, “Huh. Okay.”
So I just kind of noted that. And then when I got back, after that training, I started seeking out the openly gay Marines. And I kind of had closed door conversations with them, like, “Has the atmosphere in the Marine Corp changed since Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed?” Because it seemed, to me, that the attitude was … And I remembered, during training, when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, the attitude was more like, “Well. Shit. I guess the gay service members can serve openly now.”
Instead of being like this enthusiastic top down endorsement like, “We’re gonna move forward with this new direction. We’re gonna make everybody feel welcome in the Marine Corp. We’re gonna undo these years of people hiding behind doors. We’re gonna try and make everybody feel welcome and part of the Marine Corp.” It felt like it hadn’t been endorsed that way.
And so I kind of asked them that question. And the responses I got was like, “Yeah. The atmosphere really hasn’t changed that much.” The majority of LGBT service members were still closeted. They were afraid of how it would affect their promotion chances. They were afraid of how their superiors would react.
And the Marines that were out and open about it were really confident and great at their jobs. And that allowed them the latitude to be out about that. Because who’s gonna challenge a Marine who’s that good? But these Marines that really weren’t so confident, couldn’t come out. And they were really kind of hiding because they were afraid of how it might affect their career.
And that kind of broke my heart because I’d been bullied for so long, earlier in my life, and I knew what it was like to have other people tell you that the way you are is wrong; and to feel like you have to be somebody else, and you have to hide who you are. And so that really made me hurt. And I was like, “I don’t want that for anybody. Let alone people who wear the same uniform that I do.” So I started thinking, “Well what can be done about this?”
And one of the things I came up with was some of these Marines who I’d been talking to was … I had been going to Al-Anon for several months, at this point. So we had this idea that we could create a support group, off base, where people would just show up, kind of anonymous style, and these LGBT Marines could get together and just support one another.
The Marines that were out and confident could meet with all these other Marines. And they could kind of debunk myths, and help them understand how things are changing, and try to at least support one another. Because it seemed like that was missing. And so, we were kind of game planning this support group.
And we started putting flyers up around base. And that got a really negative reaction from the base leadership. And they told us to take it down immediately because, and I didn’t know this, but this was my first look into it, because the equal opportunity program, in the military at that time, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell didn’t give them equal protections, it just said you can serve openly. But it didn’t protect them from discrimination.
So it didn’t protect the LGBT community from discrimination. So, in the Marine Corps’ eyes, you can’t be putting stuff up there, because they’re not a protected group. And I was like, “Oh. That’s news to me.” And that was around the February timeframe. So then I was thinking, “Well, June’s coming up. What about Pride Month? Are we gonna recognize Pride Month? The president’s recognized pride month in 2009. The DOD had recognized Pride Month in 2013. Is this base gonna recognize Pride Month in 2014?”
And again, they said, “The equal opportunity program does not cover sexual orientation. It does not cover gender identity. We will not be recognizing pride month.” And, to me, that was the wrong answer.
Eric Klein: Yeah. Jake, it sounds … I wanted to cut you off there, because I don’t understand that answer either. And I’m wondering, it doesn’t even sound like an answer. It’s like a non answer. Especially as to why you had to take down the flyers, which, to me, is a smaller gesture than having an official Pride celebration on the base, or recognition of Pride. So, can you explain to me, again, why you were not allowed to organize a off the base support group?
Jacob Bridge: Because they said they didn’t want it to look like the base was endorsing it, something like that. They said there were legal ramifications for that. By advertising it around base, it would basically signify endorsement, which, to them, was problematic because the military didn’t have an equal opportunity program that protected those groups. That was how they chose to phrase it. But I knew that if they wanted to help these groups out, they would do it. It’s kind of a no brainer. If you want to help that community, you do what you can to help them. And I think, also, the fact that it was off base, had something to do it.
So they were just staunchly against it. As soon as the flyers went up and they saw it, they called my battalion and they were not happy. So then I started looking at this equal opportunity program, and again, I asked about pride month. And they were like, “Well, we’re not gonna recognize it because it’s not a protected group.” Race is protected, gender, religion, ethnicity, that kind of stuff was protected. So you have like Martin Luther King, Black History Month, Asian Pacific Islander Month, Women’s History Month, you have all those months, they get recognized, but Pride Month was not on the list because gender identity and sexual orientation were not protected.
Even though the overarching Department of Defense had recognized it, even though the President, our ultimate boss, had already recognized it, they basically weren’t willing to stick their next out because the Marine Corp honchos hadn’t officially said anything about it.
Eric Klein: Okay.
Jacob Bridge: So that was really frustrating to me because it was like, “Look, you have all these gay Marines, LGBT Marines who are scared to come out, who don’t feel supported, who feel like their leadership will come down on them if they know they’re gay.” And this is kind of proving it to me. And the gist I got, too, was that the junior Marines, the lower ranking Marines, really didn’t care that much about whether the people they worked with were gay or not. It was like the officers and the higher ranking enlisted that were the real problems, which makes sense. It’s always the older generations that seem to accept this stuff much slower than the younger ones.
Eric Klein: Right.
Jacob Bridge: And I was really seeing that. But the older generations hold all the power, so I was really coming up against these brick walls. So I tried, I tried, and I tried as many ways as I could to get Pride Month recognized without making a fuss about it; by just saying, “This is the right thing to do. It’s gonna happen eventually. Let’s just do it.” But that didn’t work.
So early June came around, and I realized it was just kind of do or die time. And there’s this thing call requesting mast, which is basically, if you have a beef, if you have a problem that is not being resolved for you, you can request mast, which is like the nuclear option.
A mast request is a direct line to your commanding officer. If your commanding officer can’t fix it, it goes to his commanding officer. If that commanding officer can’t fix it, it goes to the next commanding officer. And it just keeps going up the chain of command until your problem either gets resolved, or you get told, “There is no resolving this. Suck it up.”
So I realized that that was what I had to do. And, at this point, the sergeant major of the base had already called my sergeant major in my battalion, and told him, “This kind of stuff won’t be tolerated.” He said something like, “The commandant doesn’t support Pride Month.” Which is total garbage because he did support Pride Month. Additionally, the President and the Department of Defense had already endorsed it, so he kind of had to go with that as well. And he was, essentially, threatening a couple people’s jobs on base because they were supporting this push.
And so, I kind of included that all in this request mast. And I said, “This is why we need to be recognizing Pride Month. And I just kind of put it out there. And I did the request mast. And I went through my battalion. I went through the next battalion up.
And then I went all the way up to the group, which was 3rd Marine logistics group. And, as I went up the chain, my battalion said, “Okay, we’re gonna recognize Pride Month. And they recognized it. And then it went higher, to the regiment level. And they were like, “Okay, we can’t solve it on the base, but we’ll recognize regimental Pride.” And then it went higher, still. And up at that level, they said, “We have no power on the base, but we will recognize Pride Month,” which was a win.
It was amazing that they finally acknowledged it. And I had been working with another lieutenant from another battalion to do this as well. And he took, once mine was done, he took my request mast and used it as the basis for his own, and his chain of command. And then, he got all of, I believe it was, MARCORP PAC, so Marine Corp Pacific, to recognize Pride Month for the first time. And it was basically email blasts acknowledging Pride Month, but it’s a first. It was a first. And that’s important because once there’s the first, there’s generally no going back.
So that was June of 2014. And it was huge win, and I was really empowered by that. But I was really exhausted by how much I had to fight the people I worked for, to get them to recognize their own Marines as human beings.
Eric Klein: Yeah.
Jacob Bridge: And it really started bothering me that, if we can’t recognize our own Marines as human beings and equal, how are we gonna be able to go to other countries and do the same? And then I was like, well we’re not, our we? Because we keep killing civilians. Nobody cares. We’re still in Iraq when we should never have been there in the first place. And we’re clearly not seeing everybody as human beings.
So then I started getting really uncomfortable. And I decided conscientious objection was the only route for me to go because I realized the organization was not gonna change. And I could no longer be a part of it because I could no longer be even a teeny tiny cog in a big machine that’s responsible for killing civilians, has no accountability, and basically dehumanizes everyone and everything it comes in touch with. So I filed for conscientious objection status June 16th, 2014, is when I filed. Basically, right after the Pride Month stuff went down, I filed for it.
Eric Klein: Yeah. How old were you when you made that decision?
Jacob Bridge: That was 25. It was just before my 26th birthday.
Eric Klein: So, at that this point, just before your 26th birthday, you made a decision to change the direction in your life that you’d been on for your entire adult life.
Jacob Bridge: Yeah. Yeah. It was quite a big decision.
Eric Klein: Tell me more about what it was like to make that big decision and then move forward.
Jacob Bridge: Actually, I hadn’t really been thinking about it, explicitly. Right before the Pride Month stuff went down, I had gone home for a couple weeks to clear my head, ’cause I was getting really miserable again. The platoon wasn’t keeping me as distracted as it had before. And I was just miserable. But I wasn’t actively thinking about conscientious objection. And I went him and I talked it over with my mom. I talked it over with people that I trusted. And I was just kind of processing. What am I gonna do? How am I gonna survive this? I’m so upset with what this organization is.
And I remember, I got back in May. And I remember the evening of May 19th or May 20th, I kind of had this weird dream, or I don’t know if you could call it a cosmic experience. But it felt like I was just kind of floating in the middle of space, or the universe, or whatever. And it was just peaceful. And there was no thoughts. There was no feelings. It was just consciousness, what felt like consciousness.
And I woke up, midnight. I just woke up and the first thing I thought was, kind of like, “Oh yeah. That’s right. I’m gonna be a conscientious objector.” And I went back to sleep. And the next morning, I woke up, and I was still on that decision. I’m be a CO. I wrote on my white board, “Going to be space dust soon. No time to waste.”
And I saw my chaplain that day, and I told her, “It’s not a question of if I become a CO.” Because she and I talked about it months ago. I said, “It’s not a question of if I become a CO, it’s a question of when. I’m gonna start the paperwork in a couple weeks.” And then I did the Pride Month stuff. And when that was done, I wrote my application and submitted it.
So the whole process, I got exposed to Buddhism in late 2013, and the idea of, “Violence begets violence,” really stuck with me because it sounded important, but I didn’t agree with it. The whole idea of the Marine Corp is that you use violence to solve problems. And here was the Buddha, who said a whole bunch of really great things that I agreed with, telling me that, “No, violence doesn’t solve problems. It makes them worse.”
So I started learning and reading up about Buddhism, reading up about just peace and war, and the history of the Iraq War; even the history of World War I and how war profiteers were still a thing, and how the military industrial complex has always existed, and how it drives these conflicts in some way; and how the military is used as a force for peace more of one to drive the economy in some ways. And so I just kept reading more things about peace and about Buddhism and about anti-war work.
And that kind of all just culminated, especially with the Pride Month push, to realizing that I just can’t do it anymore. War doesn’t work. It’s never worked. Even World War II ended, but it ended with two nuclear bombs that kicked off the Cold War. And now we have thousands of nuclear bombs that we’ll probably never get rid of, and may be used any day now.
So I could just see how violence just really creates these really awful problems. They have solutions, but we’re not, apparently, emotionally intelligent enough to apply solutions that don’t involve violence, which is why they never work. So I had that epiphany that night. And that was it. There was no going back. I never questioned it.
Eric Klein: And you referenced civilian casualties.
Jacob Bridge: Yeah.
Eric Klein: Where did you get that information?
Jacob Bridge: I just started doing some creative Googling. I mean, the Iraqbodycount.Org, I think, is one. And it depends on which numbers you trust, but the numbers on that site have the civilian casualties in the millions. I think that’s a pretty reliable number, and that number really shook me because I started realizing that nobody cared. You look at all these drone strikes. And every drone strike had civilian casualties. And we never seem to be making any kind of difference.
And I realized that, at that point, we had been in Iraq for about 10 or 11 years, and had basically done nothing, except kill people, and a lot of civilians; and really just kind of destabilized everything in that region. And we should never have been there in the first place. That’s what really, really blew my mind, was that we should never have been there in the first place. Everybody knows it, and yet, we’re still there. And it was kind of insane to me.
It would kind of be like, if a plumber came to your house, messed up all the plumbing in your house, and then stayed there for 11 years trying to fix it. That’d be crazy. It’d be crazy. You would have told that plumber to leave. Everybody wants the plumber to go, but we won’t go.
We just stay there, and we keep making things worse. We keep killing innocent people. And now we have ISIS, which is Al-Qaeda on steroids, or whatever. And people wonder why. Well it’s because we’ve been killing everybody’s family. We’re giving them something to be angry about. And people just couldn’t see that. They can’t see how simple it is.
If somebody splattered your loved ones with an oopsy missile, “Oops, we didn’t mean to kill your loved ones,” what would you do? Would you say, “Oh well,” and pick up and continue working? Or would you maybe try to get back at them? And it’s like there’s that cognitive step that’s missing. That really kind of blew my mind. Because everybody says, “Yeah, but when we try to bomb them and we kill their mothers and daughters and parents, at least we mean well.” And somehow, that’s supposed to matter. Somehow, that takes the responsibility out of it.
And I just was kind of sickened by the whole thing. Nobody cares. Nobody wants to take responsibility. We just want to stay in Iraq forever because it’s profitable. And there’s really no death toll that will get us out of there.
Eric Klein: So you’ve made this monumental decision to be a conscientious objector. How is that received? How does that go?
Jacob Bridge: When I made that decision, some people were off put by it, put off by it. But, for the most part, I just kind of approach with this attitude … A lot of people I’ve heard of came with this approach of CO status with the attitude of like, “I’m applying for CO status. You need to give it to me. What you’re doing is wrong, and I’m morally right.”
And I realized that wasn’t gonna get me anywhere. So the stance I took was like, “I’m offering myself up to the CO process. I’ve submitted my application. It is out of my hands. And it is up to you to decide my fate. And I’m okay with that. But I need you to know where I stand. And I don’t want you to think that I’m telling that what you’re doing it wrong. What I’m telling you is that I can no longer participate in it.”
And I think that kind of helped me work with my superiors and my peers because I wasn’t taking an antagonistic attitude. There were some who got antagonistic with me, and didn’t see eye to eye with me, and we had issues. But, by and large, the people I needed to look out for me, looked out for me.
And I was very involved in my process because I had educated myself so much on it. And it’s such a rare thing for officers to do. I haven’t been able to get the numbers on this, and I’ve tried. I may be the only Marine Corp officer who’s filed for conscientious objector status. I might be, in the Marine Corp. So nobody knew what to do, really, at the beginning. But I knew. So they kind of included me in the beginning stages, like, “What’s the next step? Then what?”
So, it was collaborative. I think the fact that I was an officer meant that I got a little more leeway with it because there were just a lot less people in charge of me. If I was a really lowly lance corporal or something, I probably would’ve got shit on a lot harder. But that wasn’t the case. And like I said, I just kind of took this attitude of, “I’m offering myself up to this convoluted process. Whatever happens, happens. But now you know where I stand. And let’s try to work together until this gets resolved.”
Eric Klein: So what happened?
Jacob Bridge: When I filed, I don’t know why, but for some reason, when I filed, I knew, in my head, I had six months. I had six months in me. I knew that I could continue working for six months before my internal spiritual energy stores gave out. And so, the process kind of started moving. I got these interviews done. I got these investigations done. The package got submitted within a couple months, through the chain of command.
But you know, there were a couple hiccups along the way, where the package got lost. And then they had to send it back. We had to add more information, and that’s just kind of part of the course when it comes to paperwork in the military. So, it slowly made its way up the chain of command, but it took a long time. I thought six months sounded like plenty of time to get it done, but by the time six months rolled around and it was the middle of December, it was still somewhere up in the headquarters Marine Corp, and I hadn’t heard anything about it.
And nobody knew what was going on. And I was feeling more and more like, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t keep putting this uniform on. I can’t keep going to work because it’s a lie. I don’t believe in it. It’s against what I stand for. And I don’t want to do it.” So I was starting to feel like I might just sit in my apartment and wait for the police to come get me and drag me to the brig, because I don’t want to show up anymore.
This was hurting my soul. It wasn’t like I was going out there and doing anything rigorous and violent. It just hurt my soul to keep doing it. It hurt my soul to be a part of this organization. So that was the middle of December. And I kind of had this … I was saving up my leave days, ’cause in the military, with the leave days, if you get out of the military, you can sell them back. And I really wanted to be able to do that when I got out. So I just wanted to have as many leave days as possible to sell them back and leave with a nice chunk of change.
But I was on the phone with my mom in that December, and she was like, “Is it worth the money to not take leave? Is it worth your sanity to save this money? You should take leave and get a break.” And so I listened to her. And I didn’t know where to go, but I figured San Francisco is a really liberal place. Gay pride is … It’s one of the most LGBT friendly spots in the country. I just figured, if nothing else, I can make connections and just feel safe for a couple days.
And while this was going on, the CO process, I was still involved in the LGBT rights issue. Because, now, I was trying to push for … Because I heard that they were writing the Equal Opportunity Manual. And I was trying to push for the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Equal Opportunity Depositions. So I was still beating people up about that, still trying to negotiate and argue for the inclusion of that important phrase. And so, I was still trying to, again, be an activist for LGBT rights, while still in the military.
So I just figured, “Why not San Francisco?” So I went to San Francisco and I stayed at a hostel. And I just kind of wandered around. But I wanted to see Berkeley, because I knew Berkeley was a big, big spot for the peace movement in the ’70s, in the ’60s, so I figured I gotta see Berkeley. I want to find the peace movement. That was my goal.
And so I went to Berkeley. I didn’t find it. All I saw were these shops, and people selling shirts with peace signs on them. And nobody really cared what that meant. And I remember I had this weird moment. I went into a head shop and I asked the young woman at the counter, I just said, and this is such a weird question to ask, but I asked her, I said, “Do you know where the peace movement is?” And she just kind of was like, she was like, “Uh. No.” So I was like …
Eric Klein: It’s 2016 and you wandered into a head shop on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley.
Jacob Bridge: Totally. Totally. And I was like, this is just a college town. This isn’t the Berkeley I heard about. This isn’t the Berkeley I thought, and maybe it existed at one point, but this isn’t what-
Eric Klein: You needed to walk up to someone in their sixties and ask them.
Jacob Bridge: Yeah. Totally. I know that now. But I was just kind of like shocked. I was like, people don’t care. These are just regular people. These are just Americans. And so I was just kind of having this existential crisis of, “Am I the only person on the planet that cares about this stuff?” I’m in Berkeley and nobody cares. And so I just got on my phone and I Googled, “Where is the peace movement?” And I came up with a link to War Resisters League, and they happened to have a number for somebody in San Francisco, in Berkeley.
So I called the number. It was a guy named Bob Neal. And I called his number. I left him a message. I even sat in front of his house and hoped he would get back to me, but he didn’t. And then I went back to my hostel. But he called me up later that night, and we arranged to meet ’cause he wanted to sit down and talk with me. And he said, “Oh, I know this guy, Jeff Patterson. He might want to talk with you too.” Because Bob was also a member of Courage to Resist.
So I sat down with Bob, and he is that older guy I should’ve been looking for, with all these pins on him. And I was totally shocked because I recognized him from this Daily Show clip about hippies in Berkeley, where he was interviewed. And it was very satirical, and they tried to make him look silly. But it was funny because, at one point in my life, I had watched that clip and totally was on the Daily Show’s side.
And now, here I was, sitting with Bob, from another perspective. And I was agreeing with him. It was like, totally blew my mind. So I was sitting there talking with Bob, just sharing my story like I am now. And he was like, “You know, you really gotta meet Jeff.” And so, a couple days later, and I was in San Francisco from, like, Christmas Day to a couple days after New Year’s Eve. So a couple days after New Year’s Eve, I met with Jeff.
We sat down and we just talked. We talked about his story and how he was also a CO from the Marine Corp on Marine Corp base Hawaii, which was crazy, that kind of connection. And he just became a support for me. And he connected me with a community in Hawaii, especially Ann Wright, a retired Army Colonel who lives in Hawaii. He connected me with her. And she was a huge source of support.
And so, I went from this random trip, feeling like I’d rather go to the brig for 20 years than sit in this office for one more day. I went to San Francisco. I met these incredible people. And then, I went back to Hawaii. I met Ann Wright. She introduced me to the Quakers on Hawaii. And then that was kind all she wrote. I spent every Sunday with the Quakers. And that was what sustained me for the next five months, until I got out as a CO.
My package was signed. And I was granted CO status on something like April 10th. And then I got out on May 15th, 2015, which interestingly enough, is conscientious objector day, International Conscientious Objector Day. So that was kind of mind blowing. But, it was this crazy random trip to San Francisco with no plans, and I basically came away with the connections that would sustain me and get me though the next five months, when I thought I had no way of making it through.
And one of the things that really had shocked me, right before I went to San Francisco, was I had finally … I had heard about Chelsea Manning, and I really didn’t want to look her up because I was nervous about what I would find. Because you had always been told that Chelsea basically was a crazy person, that she had leaked all this information because she was young and stupid and had too much power. And also, she doesn’t even know what gender she is, so why would you trust her?
And so, basically, the Marine Corp went to great extents, and the military, in general, to discredit anything she had done. So you just kind of wrote her off. I never really paid her any mind. But as I started diving into anti-war readings and anti-war work and activist stuff, the name Chelsea Manning kept popping up. Because you hear about Snowden, but in the same breath, you hear Chelsea Manning. I was like, “Okay. I’m gonna have to check this out.” And so, I finally checked out Chelsea Manning and what she had done, and it all seemed okay. I kind of agreed with it. I was still kind of like, “Eh,” a little confused.
But then I saw that video on YouTube called “Collateral Murder,” I think, which is an excerpt from her trial. And I listened to her describe the events that are shown on that video clip of the Border’s team being blasted by the, I think, AC10, or whatever. And I listened to her describe why it made her angry, why it made her sick, why she did what she did, and I had this incredible “holy shit” moment where I was like, “That’s me. Those are things that I say. Those are the things I think. That’s my voice coming through Chelsea Manning, somebody I never thought I would ever agree with.” And so that was this big paradigm shift where I was like, “Wow. What does it mean if I agree with Chelsea Manning?”
You know and I was already in the conscientious objection process, but it will still this huge shift, to be like, “I cannot believe that I’m on Chelsea Manning’s side, strong.” It was just crazy to hear her rationale, so similar to mine. And so when I got involved with Jeff, I was just very eager to learn more about how I could help Chelsea. And I did write her a letter when I was still in the CO process. And she wrote me back. And that was really cathartic, I think, to have contact with her in that way, and just support her in that small way. And in 2016, I was part of the Chelsea Manning contingent in New York City Pride. And I’m helping organize it this year.
Eric Klein: Tell me about what you wrote in that letter.
Jacob Bridge: Yeah. I got it right here. It’s not too long. Can I read it?
Eric Klein: Yeah. Go right ahead. Yeah.
Jacob Bridge: Dear Chelsea, When I first heard about you, I didn’t really know what to think. On one hand, I was still of the mind that information you were leaking could be dangerous, and a security threat to America. But on the other, I felt that if what you were leaking was evidence of egregious crimes we were committing, then maybe you were doing the right thing.
I didn’t have to struggle with those thoughts for very long, though, because the military told me what to think. You were a misguided, immature kid. A traitor, who did what he did because he wanted attention or was bored. I was told that to look at anything you would share with Wikileaks would be a crime and I would jeopardize my career to do so. So I didn’t look at your leaks, and you fell out of my mind, because you were just a crazy, misguided kid, and a lowly PFC, at that.
But deep down, I knew that something important was being hidden from me. Then we learned of your desire to change from man to woman, and it was even easier to convince me that you were out of your mind? What could a crazy homo ever have to teach me? He doesn’t even know what sex he wants to be. What a weirdo.
But I’ve changed since then, Chelsea. And I see things, now, that were hidden so cleverly from me. They used your age, rank, and trans sexuality to distract us from the truths you were uncovering. I’ve been involving with LGBT equality in the military for nine months now, and I’m working every day to increase your chances at a better, fairer life. And now I know that you are not some young irrational idiot.
You and I are the same age. I’m sorry for ever thinking of you as anything other than the beautiful conscientious person that you are. A month ago, I watched “Providence,” a short video about the cargo truck bombing that killed two Reuters journalists. As the video loaded, I knew this was a moment that would leave a mark. I was finally going to see what had been hidden from me, or what I had hidden from myself.
When I heard your voice over the brutal footage, I didn’t hear some crazy, unreliable, selfish voice. I heard the same voice that I started hearing inside myself last year. I heard the same voice that led me to file for conscientious objector status six months ago. This was my voice. This was a voice of conscience. You did not jeopardize America’s security for your own benefit. You jeopardized your own security to give the human race a chance at healing itself.
Thank you for being a beacon of hope. You have lit a torch for all to see. And those brave enough, will take from the fire and light their own torches. I hope to someday meet you in person and thank you for all you’ve done, but until then, I say thank you and happy birthday.
And that’s that.
Eric Klein: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. So you sent the letter. What did you expect to happen?
Jacob Bridge: I didn’t expect a response. But I did get one. And it was an interesting response, too, because Chelsea … I told Chelsea I’m a conscientious objector, but Chelsea responded and said she thought that I should stay in, because she thought the military needs conscientious leaders in order to bring it back to some sort of semblance of sanity, which I disagree with. But it was nice to just have contact with her, and to know that she had read my letter and took the time to respond to me. I mean, that was … I still have the letter. I don’t know where, but I have it.
Eric Klein: Yeah.
Jacob Bridge: And that’s something I’m always gonna have.
Eric Klein: That’s really interesting. So why do you disagree with Chelsea Manning that the world is better off with people like you quitting the military?
Jacob Bridge: Oh, no. I disagree, personally, with myself. I do think that the military is gonna be a tool for good, if that’s even possible. I do think that we need conscientious people in it. But I knew that that wasn’t me. I knew that I couldn’t do it. But there are a couple people I know in the military that I consider that, a conscientious person. There are people that I would much rather stay in the military to help it, than get out. So I understood her perspective, but I just knew I couldn’t do it.
Eric Klein: Yeah.
Jacob Bridge: And it was funny because I brought it up to Jeff, and Jeff was basically, in his own way, like, “Nah, man. Just tell her, nah. That’s okay.” I was like, yeah, I guess that’s a good point. I just knew I couldn’t do that.
Eric Klein: So, speaking of Jeff, I understand that you guys appeared in public together in Hawaii. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Jacob Bridge: We did. Somehow, I still remember the date. It was like March 10th, 2015. We just spoke to whoever showed up, which was mostly the hippie crowd, the Quaker crowd, the Mennonite crowd. And Jeff shared his story. I shared mine. Another awesome guy named Kyle Kachuhiro, who was a demilitarization activist on Hawaii. We just all gave our perspectives. Kyle talked about how militarization on Hawaii works, and how it spreads, and how it sticks. Jeff shared his CO story, and how Chelsea is doing. And I just shared my experience in the military.
And it was kind of a nerve racking thing, a little bit, because I was speaking about my CO experience, while I was still in the military. Which is scary, because they always tell you not to really speak out when you’re still in, but I ran it by all the important people. And they said that that was okay, so long as I didn’t wear my uniform or disparate the military or criticize. And I didn’t. I just shared my perspective.
Eric Klein: Yeah. So what did you share?
Jacob Bridge: I guess I shared a lot of what I’d already shared. What I shared with you here. I shared my journey, how I came to see what I’ve seen, and just kind of what the struggle was like at that time. I think I mostly just kind of explained why I was a conscientious objector, and why I wanted to put myself out that way.
Eric Klein: So they let you go?
Jacob Bridge: They did. It was a month later. I think almost exactly a month later, I heard the word that I was granted conscientious objector status. And then, about a month after that, on May 15, I was discharge, honorably. And that was that. That was the end, at least, of my military service.
Eric Klein: Yeah. So what’s next for you? Or what came next?
Jacob Bridge: When I got out, I thought, “Okay, what I really need to do is get involved in the government, somehow. I need to lobby for change. I need to make it happen that way. I need to get involved in politics. And I’d use my leadership experience … Yada yada yada yada yada.” So there was this fellowship that I had heard about called the Scoville Fellowship. And it sounded like a good deal.
It was like a year long fellowship where you can with the Friends Committee on national legislation, which is a Quaker lobbying group. And there was a whole bunch of other really cool think tanks and lefty groups that you could work with through this fellowship. And I was thinking this is what I need to do. And so, I started working on an application in May. I moved through the first and seconds, and I made it deep into the interview process.
And then, fast forward to that December, they called me down to DC to do the final round of interviews. There was like seven people that were called down, I think. And there were gonna be four spots filled, something like that. Three or four spots. So I was feeling really good about my chances, and I’d been good about the experience I brought into it as a conscientious objector. And I just kind of felt like I was a shoe in. And, apparently, I wasn’t, because I didn’t get it. And that was really difficult.
That was really tough because I had kind of set in my head that this was the next path for me, and I didn’t really have a plan B. And something I left out was I granted on April 10th, which was a Friday, so I didn’t hear about it until April 13th, that Monday, conscientious objection being granted. And then, on April 15th, my mom called me and told me that my stepdad was diagnosed with kidney cancer. It was metastatic. It was in his bones. And I knew what that meant.
So my euphoria was short lived. And when I left the Marines, I moved back home to do caregiving with my mom, for my stepdad. So that was all going on throughout this process, too. So, fast forward, again, to December, I didn’t get my internship. And I was really devastated because I didn’t know what to do next.
My life had totally changed direction. And here I was, after putting all this work into this fellowship; interviews, essays, letters of recommendation. And I had nothing to show for it. So I got home, I got back home to New Jersey. And I was feeling really miserable and sad for myself. And my mom suggested that I put together a jigsaw puzzle, which sounded silly, but I did.
And I was feeling really mad at myself because I was 27 years old. I had no job. I had no prospects. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. And here I was, sitting in my parents’ house, putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I just kind of felt like a loser. I felt like a loser. But I shut off. I told my brain to just quiet down. And I put together the puzzle.
And by the time I was done with the puzzle, I decided to get my Master’s in Social Work, because it was something I had wanted to do, at one time. When I was so engrossed in therapy, I realized I want to be a therapist. But I had forgotten about that through the CO process, and feeling like I needed to push myself into politics and leadership, in that direction, which I realized, as time went on, after I didn’t get that fellowship, that I hate politics. It makes me miserable. There’s no joy I derive from it. Listening to the news makes me so depressed.
But I felt like this is my duty. Feeling like the Marine Corp was my duty, I just put that on lobbying and politics. I felt like this is my new duty, even though I hate. And I got caught up in chasing a job that I wasn’t gonna like.
But then I remembered that I really enjoyed therapy, and I enjoy that process. And I want to do that for a living. Just by putting that jigsaw puzzle, I was just able to slow my brain down and think. So it was interesting. And I just started that night. I started applying to social work programs.
So that was like early January, and by early February, I’d been accepted to NYU. And I chose them to go with. And the caregiving with my stepdad was still going on. I moved out of my parents’ place in September so I could move closer to the city. That’s when I moved to Jersey City. But I’m still going home on the weekends to help with caregiving and spend time.
And social work school, the first semester went really well. It was stressful. It’s a change of pace, certainly, especially to go back to school. But it was refreshing. It was great to go back to school and actually care about the stuff I was learning about. Because my undergrad was not that way.
But it was stressful because I was also doing the caregiving on weekends. And I didn’t really know how much that was taking a toll on me, but it was. And then, my stepdad went to the hospital for the last time, in January of this year, and he passed away at the end of the month. So I’d been dealing with that, now, too.
But things are still going well. And this path feels more and more like it’s the one for me. And I’m really glad that I’m in social work, and I’m working with people. And it feels like I’m finally helping uplift people’s humanity in ways that I always wanted to. And I thought the Marine Corp would help me do it, but it didn’t. And it feels like I was fed a bunch of lies about helping people, and then ended up just being part of an organization that doesn’t care about any people, at all. And doing social work is helping me kind of maybe repay that, undo some of that awful stuff that I felt like I was a part of.
Eric Klein: Jake, I really appreciate all the time that you’ve taken to tell me your story. It’s been real good to talk to you, on my end. Thank you so much-
Jacob Bridge: Thank you.
Eric Klein: for sharing this with me. Let me ask, where do you put Courage to Resist in this story of yours?
Jacob Bridge: I mean, Courage to Resist, Jeff Patterson, Bob Niola, and just meeting them, that late December, early January, 2014, 2015, it feels like that may have been … There’s a lot of turning points in my life, but that was a turning point during the conscientious objection process, because up until then, I didn’t know if I was gonna make it. And whether that means I would go to jail rather than go to work, or if I felt like … I wasn’t having suicidal ideations, but who knows where that could have gone.
But I knew my spiritual stores were down. But I met Jeff, I met Courage to Resist, and things turned around. And my networks broadened, tremendously. The bottleneck disappeared, and I met incredible activists like Ann Wright. And I got introduced to the Quaker community there. And I got this incredible love and support because of meeting Jeff and Courage to Resist, that I was totally missing.
And all of a sudden, this impossible CO process and the waiting game became possible. It became doable, because every week, I was either meeting with Ann Wright, or I was meeting with the Quakers, or I was talking with Jeff. I had my support tripled, quadrupled. And so, really, Jeff helped open that bottleneck, for me, because I had just kind come to a dead end on my own. And I just wasn’t able to make the connections that he was able to give me.
And so I just didn’t feel alone anymore. And I felt much less isolated. I felt a lot more connected to life because of the people he was able to introduce me to and the support he and Courage to Resist were able to give me; especially just even including me in the talk that he gave on March 10th, that same year; just feeling like I was a part of it, a part of whatever the peace movement was. I felt like I was some sort of part of it, and that I was entering a new phase. I was also becoming part of a different sector of humanity, but a sector that I had been looking for, for a long time. I just didn’t know where to find it.
Eric Klein: It still makes me laugh thinking about poor Jake wandering into that head shop on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and demanding, from that equally poor woman, young lady, working at this head shop in Berkeley, “Where is the anti-war movement?” And I’m so glad that he didn’t give up, then and there. I’m so glad that he took to Google and found that anti-war movement and was connected with people he needed to get support.
This podcast is funded by Courage to Resist. For more information about the organization and the work that they do, you can go to the website, CouragetoResist.Org. Special thanks to Jeff Patterson, to my friend Mitch Jeserich, and of course, all my thanks to Jake Meyer for sharing his story. Music by the band, Forget the Whale. Looked them up on Facebook, Forget the Whale. My name is Eric Klein. Thank you for listening.