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WENTZVILLE, Mo. – This article is part of a Fox News Digital series examining the consequences of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan one year ago this week.
Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz thought he would die trying to get control over the Kabul airport during the 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
After a few days, the military was able to secure some degree of order. Then Jared learned he would be moved from his initial post to the airstrip.
“‘I’m exhausted. I’ve got to go,'” Jared’s father, Mark Schmitz, recalled his son saying in one of their final conversations. “He was just hurting for sleep so bad.”
“I told him I love him. He says, ‘I love you back,’” Mark recollected. “And that was the end of that phone call.”
Jared, 20, was one of the 13 U.S service members killed by a suicide bomber at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 26, 2021. At least 170 Afghan civilians also died from the blast.
Even if Jared had known an attack was imminent, he still wouldn’t have changed his position, Mark said.
“He would’ve stayed right 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 brother or sister.”
“If he was ever going to go out, he’d want to die a Marine,” Mark added. “He would do it all over again.”
‘His uniform was his safe place’
Jared’s interest in the armed forces when he was a child, but his ambition to join the Marines really became apparent in high school, his father and stepmother, Jaclyn Schmitz, said.
At a young age, Jared was “just really passionate just about being there for people,” Jaclyn told Fox News. Jared’s father said his son’s protective natured guided him toward the military.
“Jared made sure that no matter who you were, you were going to get taken care of,” Mark said. “He would not allow for bullying to happen. He would always intervene.”
Jared took his role as an older brother seriously. He watched out for his siblings and always walked them home from school, even carrying his youngest sister’s backpack for her.
“Addison at one point said she was helping him for his Marine training,” Jaclyn said.
And as a young teenager, Jared started training with local Marines every Saturday morning.
“I’d never seen him ever dedicate himself to something like he did that,” Jaclyn told Fox News. “We knew at that point this was truly his calling.”
But even once he became a Marine, Jared kept his goofy personality, Mark said. He would do funny dance moves and silly voices.
“Jared really was no different than he was at home,” Mark said. “He had the most infectious laugh.”
Still, “when he had the uniform on there was a sense of pride that beamed from him, because he was finally where he wanted to be,” Mark added. “Being in his uniform, I think, was his safe place.”
The community’s support has been a lifeline for Mark and Jaclyn since Jared’s death, the couple said. It reminds Mark about how the country united after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Mark stressed the importance of that day to Jared during his upbringing, which the elder Schmitz believes was another factor that led his son to join the Marines.
“But the more important day to me in reflection now was Sept. 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.”
Mark saw a similar unity when Jared’s body was brought back home. The funeral procession included hundreds of vehicles that drove along 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 painting in my office that was painted by an artist in California.”
The painting is a rendition of the last photo taken of Jared, captured just hours before he was killed.
“It cheers me up every time I look at it,” Mark told Fox News. “I just feel like he’s communicating back.
If Jared were still alive, Mark said he would tell him “you have made me so proud.” His voice cracked as he held back tears. “You are 10 times the man that I will ever be.”
“The country’s so proud of you,” Mark continued. “Everything you signed up for in the end was worth it.”
Mark and Jaclyn honor Jared’s memory through their nonprofit, The Freedom 13, which aims to provide veterans with recreational housing and connect them with fellow veterans in an effort to improve their mental well-being. It recently acquired Missouri property with plans to build a retreat 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 told my wife the other day, I’m not afraid to die,” he said. “I know that in my heart of hearts, I’ll see him again.”