Former Wisconsin offensive lineman Jake Wood soon will have an honor bearing the name of a man who changed the trajectory of his life.
Wood will receive the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the ESPYs next month, ESPN announced Monday.
The award, established in 2014, is named for the former Arizona Cardinals star who left the NFL to join the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Tillman was killed in Afghanistan in 2004 while serving in the Rangers.
While Wood also was moved by 9/11 to consider military service, Tillman’s sacrifice drove him to take action.
When he was at Wisconsin, “each day I would sit on my couch in my house on campus and watch the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan unfold,” he wrote in a post for Medium. “I would watch as young men just like me kicked in doors in Fallujah and I would swallow the guilt of my comfort and privilege. Then one day I turned on the television and saw the breaking news that Pat Tillman had been killed in Afghanistan. It was a moment of reckoning. Pat embodied everything I wanted to be. He was a man of conviction — a man that knew what he believed in and had the courage to live the life he was called to live.”
Wood enlisted in the Marine Corps and would spend four years overseas.
He “served tours in Iraq, where his unit did combat and ran counterinsurgency missions out of Camp Fallujah, and in Afghanistan, where he deployed after graduating from sniper school at the top of his class,” a profile in the university alumni magazine On Wisconsin said. “He left the Marines as a decorated veteran and returned home to face another big decision: what’s next?”
Wood soon found a new mission.
“On January 12, 2010, I awoke much as I had on 9/11, unaware that the events of that day would change my life forever,” he wrote on Medium. “Images of the Haiti earthquake flashed across the television and punched me in the chest. The devastation, the despair, and the gut-wrenching loss of life were evident within moments. In so many ways it reminded me of New York City on 9/11 but for one key difference — this tragedy had no enemy.
“I felt the call to serve.”
Wood decided to organize a trip to the devastated island nation and help in any way he could using the skills he learned in the Marines. He put out a call for volunteers on Facebook and in minutes received a response from a fellow Marine, William McNulty.
The two men and a group of other veterans, first responders and medical workers headed to Haiti with supplies in tow. Thus was born Team Rubicon, a nonprofit organization that mobilizes volunteers, mostly veterans, for rescue and relief following earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters.
“We immediately set out to build Team Rubicon into the best disaster response organization in the world,” Wood wrote on Medium. “In doing so we hoped to give the millions of men and women coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan a new mission, and through that mission a newfound sense of purpose, community and identity.”
In the past eight years, Team Rubicon and as many as 80,000 volunteers have responded to over 250 disasters around the world.
Honored & humbled to receive this award and be associated w Pat Tillman, the man that inspired me to find the courage to serve alongside my fellow Americans. Not the #ESPY I envisioned when I joined the @badgerfootball team in ‘01 but def more meaningful. https://t.co/rSgykTdrL7
— Jake Wood (@JakeWoodTR) June 11, 2018
The former Badger said he was humbled to receive the Tillman award.
“In Pat Tillman I found a man of courage and conviction, and his sacrifice inspired me to serve,” Wood said in an ESPN press release. “Since 2001, millions of Americans have answered their nation’s call to service, and my time in the Marine Corps was by no means different. Today, as a small part of Team Rubicon, I’m surrounded by these very same men and women — joined together on a team committed to serving others. As I think of this award, I can’t help but think that if Pat were still alive that he’d be wearing Team Rubicon’s iconic Greyshirt and serving alongside us.”
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