NewsHonoring Our Veterans: Veterans Day 2021


Local Afghan veteran turns pain into passion

Posted at 5:39 PM, Nov 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-11 21:37:54-05

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States rocked our nation.

It was that devastating day that led to the war in Afghanistan, becoming America's longest battle lasting nearly two decades.

Jakob Spraggins, 29, served in Afghanistan and now lives in Waco with his two daughters and wife Alexandra. His home is beautifully decorated with photos of his family, and rocks and fossils from dozens of mountains, and national parks, they've traveled to.

He's built a beautiful life, one he says feels surreal because for so long he struggled with PTSD when he returned home from deployment.

For Spraggins, those pictures of his family are reminders of how far he's come.

"I turned 20 in Afghanistan. So I deployed when I was 19," Spraggins said.

Taking the oath to protect and serve wasn't about honor or awards. He enlisted at 17 years old before graduating high school because, in the Spraggins family, it was just something you did.

"My granddad was in WWII, in the Navy and I was just raised around that mentality. I always knew I wanted to serve in a way. I just didn't know in what way. Until '01," Spraggins said.

Thousands of U.S. Troops deployed to Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. Our nation's military aggressively infiltrated the country to dismantle Al Queda and the Taliban.

"We had several missions where we were training with the A&A and going with the Afghani police and actively seeking out Taliban and trying to figure out where they were building bombs and stuff like that," Spraggins said. "So, our job was to provide regional security for the area that way the government could have stability in the area."

Spraggins describes his time in Afghanistan as brief.

"I was there less than a year," he said.

But the mental trauma he endured is a fight he's still battling nearly 10 years later.

"It's such a toxic stigma mentality you must keep when you're always being aggressive or on edge or looking everywhere for a threat.," Spraggins said. "If you're always looking for a threat then you're going to be a threat. It's just that mentality all the time so if you can never get out of that, how do you cope with what you went through before?"

According to WBUR, Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 30,000 veterans have died by suicide. That's four times more than the number of U.S. military who died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Countless guys are gone. People are still killing themselves. So, is Afghanistan truly over? Everyone says it's over. It's not over. People are suffering every day," Spraggins said.

But, he found his coping mechanism.

"I started diving in 2016 and I realized there's just so much more. When you go underwater for that first time and you hear your breath, and it's you, the fish, the ocean — nothing else is going to change what you're doing the next 30 minutes. Not a care in the world. That's peace," Spraggins said.

He started diving and quickly fell in love. Spraggins was so invested in this newfound hobby that he became a diving instructor. That love for nature grew more and more every day, he enrolled at MCC to study geology.

"When you learn about 3 billion to 4 billion years worth of time, all a sudden your life seems so insignificant," he said.

That passion for nature's beauty turned into purpose giving his life new meaning outside of the military.

"I found peace through servitude. For instance, when me and my daughter go out, we go down to the Brazos. It's awesome teaching the next generation what we must do to stop the problems we're seeing," Spraggins said. "We go out there and do what we can, and we come back with bags and bags of trash and kayaks full trash. We help where we can."

But, it's not really about diving or picking up trash. For veterans like Spraggins, struggling, it's about finding peace, something that helps you heal.

"Whatever your choice may be, realizing that you can get away from these things and that there's a greater purpose and greater life that you can find again," he said.

His life serves as a testament.

From the pictures on his walls to the rocks, fossils, and artifacts taken from all the beautiful places he's been — reminders — of how far he's come.

"I never thought I'd be where I am today," Spraggins said.