OKEECHOBEE — Not only is he Cpl. Jack Nash of the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office, he is also a Marine. He was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1973, and he isn’t afraid to tell anyone his age, he said, because he believes the older he gets, the wiser he gets and hopefully the more patient. His mother raised him as a single mother, and then he moved to Okeechobee to live with his grandparents when he was about 11. He attended Grace Christian, which is now Okeechobee Christian Academy. His grandfather was a police officer and had been chief of police in a small town in Ohio when he lived there, and was also a Marine, a WWII and Korean war veteran, and back then, you could transfer from one branch to another. His grandfather started off in the Navy, the Seabees, and went into the Marine Corps as a gunnery sergeant. He retired as a tech sergeant for the Strategic Air Command, and that’s where Cpl. Nash was most influenced. As he was growing up and becoming a man, he looked up to his grandfather, he said, and to other men like Larry Peterson and Jim Pippin. They influenced him to give more than he was giving.
The day he stepped off the bus in Parris Island was one of best days of his life, he said, because he’d earned the title of Marine, and less than 1% of our population can say that. His grandfather always used to tell him, “I loved all the uniforms, but the best I ever wore was the dress blues.” So, Cpl. Nash wanted his own set of dress blues like Granddad’s so he could impress him one day, and the day he showed up at the graduation, and saw his grandson in his dress blues was one of the happier days of Cpl. Nash’s life.
He joined the corps in the delayed entry program. He signed up as a 5711 — a chemical warfare specialist. He went through boot camp after high school, and he said Parris Island was a real eye opener for a young man who thought he knew everything. “You think you’ve been chewed out before, but you have no clue until you’ve met a drill instructor from Parris Island,” he said. “They took a harebrained knucklehead like me, and over the course of three months, changed me into a man.” After graduating from there, every Marine goes to infantry school no matter what their MOS is.
Then he went to Fort McClellan in Alabama for his specialized training. That was where he flew in his first helicopter. He is more comfortable in a rotor than in a fixed wing because he spent so much time in them. He was 18, at an Army base with a college right next to it, and he said that school did not work out for him. He spent more time partying than studying and failed out of the school. A sergeant told him he had a job he would put him in where he would ride around a lot. Cpl. Nash thought that sounded great, but what he didn’t realize was that the 80-pound system also had to be walked into places, and he was the one who would be carrying it. He became an anti-tank missile man, a tow gunner. Back to the academy he went for more training, and then he was sent to Okinawa, Japan after he graduated.
Where he was, it was jungle warfare. They were the aggressors for Super Squad. Super Squad would take their best units from scout snipers or weapons battalions or recon, around the world within the Marine Corps, and they would send them to Okinawa for POW training, like a SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) school. The area was used as a training ground for jungle warfare specialists. Their job was to be the aggressors, the opposing force. The groups would send their squads out, and the aggressors would attack them or set up ambushes or take them prisoner and take them to a makeshift POW camp, where they went through a POW school. Pilots, people from other organizations, people from other countries even took the course. He was able to take a couple flights to mainland Japan, and for a 19-year-old kid, he said he found that amazing. He even got to climb Mount Fuji.
In the winter of 1992, he switched units and was deployed to Somalia. He spent Christmas there. A lot of things happened he would not wish upon anyone, he said, but that tour showed him how lucky we are here in America. “Sometimes we lose sight of that,” he said. “A 19-year-old kid should not have to go through that, but to some extent it was worth it, because we weren’t fighting for the cause so much as we were fighting for each other.” You tend to try to forget the bad and remember the fun though, he said. He remembers being in the stadium in downtown Somalia on guard duty. The Pakistanis were on guard duty as well, he said. They didn’t really do much mingling. One night, someone took a chem light (glow stick) and threw it over the wall to their side, and it came back along with two or three more. Before they knew it, they were having a chem light fight, back and forth over the wall until someone ruined it by sending over a smoke grenade, and pretty soon it all stopped. So, it wasn’t all bad memories, he said.
When he got back, they were forming a CAAT (Combined Anti-Armor Team) platoon. They were the very first, and he is very proud to have been part of that. “For me and for any veteran you ever speak with, I don’t care if you are a garbage man or a cook or a paper pusher a mailman a scout sniper or a Navy SEAL. My respect for all of them that join the military is just as high. Now, obviously some of the specialty units are the cream of the crop, and I hold them a little bit higher.”
All veterans hold a special place in Cpl. Nash’s heart. That is why he tries so hard to help the ones coming out of the service with people like Gregg Maynard and Vietnam Veterans of America and Mark McCade, who goes out to the Brighton Reservation, and Sarah Carter of Veterans Services. Any time any of those organizations ask for help and it is veteran related, he is ready to help. Wreaths Across America is another one he likes to support. “It is coming up in December, and we need donations,” he said. “Those men and women sacrificed their time and sometimes their lives. They deserve a wreath on top of their final resting place. I appreciate Sheriff Noel Stephen allowing me to be a part of that.”
“For the rest of my life I can mess up a lot of things, and they can take away anything from me, but they can’t take away the fact that I am a United States Marine,” he said. “When you hear someone served, you have a newfound sense of respect for that person, at least I do, and you should. When you tell them thank you for your service, you have no idea what that means to them, and if it’s a Vietnam veteran, tell them welcome home.”