Life used to be a lot different for Jacob Raymond. Nearly six years ago, Raymond was serving as a military policeman in the National Guard in Baghdad. He rode in convoys during eight-hour patrols and Iraqi police training missions, always on the lookout for snipers. He slept in a warehouse that shook regularly from incoming mortar fire. He survived a roadside bombing that tore through his Humvee, giving him a concussion, cuts and bruises. In the seconds after the blast, he counted each finger and toe and quickly felt his body for any warm, gushing blood. He was relieved to find himself more or less intact.
And, though he returned home alive, Raymond found that the demons of war were hard to shake. Not easy, either, was integrating back into an American society that, at least from his perspective, seemed more interested in the details of the death of Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The public, he felt, hardly noticed that he and his fellow soldiers were gone, much less celebrated their return.
“It feels like you were forgotten about,” says Raymond, who – like many veterans – felt detached and without direction following his discharge from the military.
Seeking to right his ship, he enrolled at the College in 2008 to pursue a degree in English. Then he dared to do something totally new and signed up for a sailing class. What’s more, he applied for a job as a dock attendant at the College’s J. Stewart Walker Sailing Center, though he had zero experience aboard boats. Lucky for Raymond, Colin Bentley ’85, the dockmaster at the time and a former Navy diver, was willing to give him a chance. And it has proved to be a life-changing experience for the Iraq veteran.
Raymond attacked his duties with such vigor that he soon became an excellent sailor himself. He finds the sport therapeutic, affording him both peace, through cruising, and an adrenaline rush, through racing. Raymond has taken to water so well that he has become an instructor for the College’s community sailing program, which offers Charleston residents the chance to learn to sail on Charleston Harbor from April to August. His achievement has been so impressive, in fact, that U.S. Sailing named him its Sailor of the Week last May and he’s easily earned the respect of his new colleagues at the boathouse.
“In spite of the limited amount of time he’s been involved in sailing, I don’t know anyone that shares the same passion for it,” says Greg Fisher, the College’s director of sailing. According to Fisher, Raymond’s inspired legions of amateur sailors with his enthusiastic, patient and supportive tutelage.
“They just rave about Jacob. They all just adore him as a teacher,” says Fisher. “He’s a spectacular ambassador for our program and for sailing in general.”
For his part, Raymond says there are few things that give him more pleasure than to see former students out on the water, enjoying themselves. The bonds he has established with these students and fellow sailors have done him immeasurable good. No longer does he feel so detached. In fact, it’s out on the water where he discovered that he and others have much common ground.
“Sailing,” says Raymond, “is a way to relate to other people; to understand, empathize and sympathize with people; to hear their stories in life.”
And, of course, to share his own.