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WENTZVILLE, Mo. – This article is part of a Fox News Digital series examining the aftermath of the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan a year ago this week.
launches the corporal. Jared Schmitz thought he would die trying to take control of Kabul airport during the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.
After a few days, the army was able to provide some degree of order. Then Jared learned that he would be moved from his original position at the airstrip.
“‘I’m exhausted. I have to go,'” Jared’s father Mark Schmitz said, recalling what his son said during one of their last conversations. “He just had so much pain sleeping.”
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“I told him I loved him. He said, ‘I love you back,'” Mark recalled. “And that was the end of that phone call.”
Jared, 20, was one of 13 US service members killed by a suicide bomber at Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 26, 2021. At least 170 Afghan civilians also died in the blast.
Even if Jared had known an attack was imminent, he still wouldn’t have changed his position, Mark said.
“He would have stayed where he was,” he told Fox News. “Because if it wasn’t him, it would be someone else, and he would never allow that to happen to another sibling.”
“If he were to ever go out, he would want to die as a Marine,” Mark added. “He would do it again.”
“His uniform was his refuge”
Jared’s interest in the armed forces as a child, but his ambition to join the Marines really became apparent in high school, said his father and stepmother, Jaclyn Schmitz.
At a young age, Jared was “just really passionate about being there for people,” Jaclyn told Fox News. Jared’s father said his son’s protective nature guided him into the military.
“Jared made sure no matter who you were, you were going to be taken care of,” Mark said. “He wouldn’t allow bullying to happen. He would always intervene.”
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Jared took his role as older brother seriously. He watched over his siblings and always walked them home from school, even carrying his youngest sister’s backpack for her.
“Addison said at one point that she was helping him with his Marine training,” Jaclyn said.
And as a young teenager, Jared began training with the local Marines every Saturday morning.
“I had never seen him dedicate himself to something like this,” Jaclyn told Fox News. “We knew at that time that it was really his calling.”
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But even once he became a Marine, Jared kept his goofy personality, Mark said. He was doing funny dance moves and silly voices.
“Jared was really no different than he was back home,” Mark said. “He had the most infectious laugh.”
Still, “when he wore the uniform, there was a sense of pride that radiated from him, because he was finally where he wanted to be,” Mark added. “Being in his uniform, I think, was his safe place.”
Community support has been a lifeline for Mark and Jaclyn since Jared’s death, the couple said. It reminds Mark of how the country came together after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Mark highlighted the significance of this day for Jared during his upbringing, which the elder Schmitz said was another factor that led to his son joining the Marines.
“But the most important day for me in reflection was September 12, the day after, because I saw the America that I love,” Mark told Fox News. “We were one America, and we were pissed off.”
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Mark saw a similar unit when Jared’s body was brought home. The funeral procession included hundreds of vehicles that traveled a 31-mile route lined with thousands of people.
“I talk to him everywhere,” Mark said of his son. “First and foremost, and most important, the picture in my office that was painted by an artist in California.”
The painting is a rendition of the last photo taken of Jared, taken just hours before his death.
“It lifts my spirits every time I watch it,” Mark told Fox News. “I just feel like he’s communicating back.
If Jared was still alive, Mark said he would tell him “you made me so proud”. His voice cracked as he held back tears. “You are 10 times the man I will ever be.”
“The country is so proud of you,” Mark continued. “Everything you signed up for in the end was worth it.”
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Mark and Jaclyn honor Jared’s memory through their non-profit organization, The Freedom 13, which aims to provide veterans with recreational accommodations and connect them with other veterans in an effort to improve their mental well-being. He recently acquired property in Missouri with the intention of building a retirement home for veterans and their families.
“Jared makes me proud to be a father,” Mark told Fox News. “He was a true American in every sense of the word.”
“I said to my wife the other day, I’m not afraid to die,” he said. “I know that deep in my heart, I will see him again.”