Newsman. Serviceman.

In 2007, Jerry Jacob left his post as co-anchor at KY3-TV to join the Army as a combat medic. Now he’s back on air, a familiar face in a familiar job trying to find his way in a newly unfamiliar world.

story by Sarah Elms / photos by Dan Oshinsky
published July 27, 2012

You’d never know his history — where he’s been, what he’s done, the things he’s seen — because he doesn’t wear his uniform anymore. Doctors don’t walk around wearing their scrubs and stethoscopes, he says, so why should he wear his uniform if he’s not going to work?

He hasn’t been at work — well, that kind of work, anyway — for six months. Jerry Jacob has been back in civilian life.

For more than a decade, Jerry’s been one of the faces of Springfield. He was the co-anchor of the 6 and 10 o’clock evening news on KY3-TV. In 2007, he abruptly left his on-camera post, and at 41, Jerry enlisted in the U.S. Army. He went to war, served as a medic and was deployed to three countries. But his service ended this year. So now he’s back at KY3, with a different job and a very different perspective on life.

In Springfield, Jerry says he doesn’t run into many people who understand exactly what he’s been through in the past five years. Today is unusual, though. Within the next hour, at this coffee shop off South Campbell, Jerry will strike up conversations with four active duty servicemen. In their uniforms, they’re hard to miss.

“What’s going on, sergeant?” Jerry calls after one who’s walking out with coffee in hand. Jerry stands and extends his hand, and Sergeant Oech [1] grasps it firmly, a slight smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

The two have never met before, but Jerry can tell a lot about Oech simply by the green- and grey-colored uniform he is wearing. The silver badge of a bayonet and grenade fastened to his uniform signifies – in layman’s terms – that he’s either been shot at or bombed. In his case, it signifies both.

For all Oech knows, Jerry is just another civilian saying thank you. Jerry looks average enough, dressed in jeans and a black polo, his uniform stored safely away in his closet. It’s funny how soldiers wear camo to blend in while on the job, but when they wear it back home, they’re more noticeable than anyone else in the room. It isn’t until Jerry speaks that Oech figures it out.

“Digicam [2] works,” Jerry says to Oech, gesturing to the sergeant’s clothes. “I wore that in Afghanistan.” The immediate mutual respect is more than apparent. It’s in their body language, in the tone of their voices and in the firm eye contact they maintain with each other.

The two chat briefly, mostly about digicam and how it’s supposed to fit into urban, woods and jungle environments, but they also swap a few quick stories. Their language is laden with acronyms – CAB, NCO, APFT [3] – all foreign to the average citizen.

The two sergeants exchange cards, telling each other if they ever need anything, don’t hesitate to call. Another handshake, a nod, and Jerry turns back to his coffee mug.

“Once you’re in, you realize these are all just human beings,” Jerry says. “No one’s bulletproof.”

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When Sept. 11 hit, Jerry – like all other members of the media, even those a few thousand miles away from Ground Zero — was covering the aftermath of the attacks. He interviewed local families who had been personally affected. He saw the pictures on TV. He heard the stories of loss firsthand.

By then, Jerry had already established himself as a well-known and well-loved face in Springfield. Although he was born in Illinois, he graduated high school in ’83 in St. Genevieve, a town of more than 4,400 residents to the south of St. Louis, where his parents still reside. He attended the University of Missouri to study journalism, and after graduation, he worked at TV stations in Oregon and Florida before returning to Missouri to become the sports director at KSPR.

In 1995, Jerry began his career at KY3. He came on as a weekend producer and weekday reporter, eventually working his way up to co-anchor of the evening news of the no. 1 station in Springfield. People all over Greene County welcomed Jerry into their homes every night via television. He became an integral part of the community. Most everyone knew who he was.

On Sept. 12, Jerry started thinking about his place in the world. He’d always served his community through his stories, but after the attacks, that didn’t feel like enough. He went to the recruiting office.

“I think everybody all felt patriotic, except I knew at that point, being awake for the last 36 years, that we were going to start attacking people,” Jerry says. “I mean it was pretty clear. That’s what we do, you know, we’re a warrior nation, and so we were going to start attacking people, and they were going to need people to help them attack.”

When Jerry told the recruiter his date of birth, there was a pause. Then the recruiter told Jerry that the Army couldn’t take him, that he was too old. Jerry didn’t understand. He was in better shape than he’d ever been, he thought, both physically and mentally.

“Once you’re in, you realize these are all just human beings. No one’s bulletproof.”

“I’d climbed mountains at that point. I’d run marathons. I could just destroy me at 18, but if I was 18, they’d take me,” Jerry says. But rules were rules. The rule at the time said in order to enlist in the U.S. Army, one must ship to basic training prior to one’s 35th birthday.

Jerry was 36.

He could’ve backed off. He could’ve found a different way to serve his country.

But Jerry is an unusually persistent man. Anyone who knows him will tell you that. He lives by the mantra, “You change what you can, you endure the rest.” So, instead of accepting the Army’s decision and rethinking his goals, he got to work trying to change the rule.

Jerry knows some influential figures through his media connections. He got Roy Blunt – now a U.S. Senator, then a Congressman – on board to raise the age limit, and he began lobbying then-Sen. Kit Bond. Soon, people with the power to create change started talking. At the same time, the U.S. military was building up its forces, and it was in need of more men and women to join the ranks. “Who knows how much of a role I or anyone else played,” Jerry says modestly. “The greatest role was that they just needed more people.”

The U.S. declared war in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 and then in Iraq in 2003 under Operation Iraqi Freedom. The U.S. had two wars going on, and it was going to need more men and women to serve.

In a case of perfect timing, the Army raised the maximum enlistment age to 42 in June 2006 through the Fiscal Year 2006 National Defense Authorization Act. Jerry started basic training one week before his 42nd birthday. He was in.

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(At top) Jerry moderates a televised debate among GOP Senate hopefuls in Willard, Mo., in May. (Above) KY3’s on-air tribute to Jerry Jacob, from 2007.

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“There’s so much you can say about Jerry. He is one of the smartest, funniest, most clever human beings you will ever know. Whether you’ve known him for 12 years, as many of us have, or 12 months or 12 minutes, what you notice almost immediately is his desire to serve.” Jerry’s longtime co-anchor, Lisa Rose, spoke these words during KY3’s farewell segment to Jerry, giving him a friendly nudge as the station publicly said goodbye in 2007.

In September of that year, 23,397 of the 433,101 active duty enlisted men and women serving in the U.S. Army were 41 or older, according to the 2007 U.S. Military Demographics Report. The average age of enlisted members in the Army is 27.2 as compared to 34.6 for officers. Officers, in general, are on the older side. Jerry was, without a doubt, in the minority.

He’s also a rare case in another way: He’s a citizen with a successful career who decided to make a major, if temporary, career change. [4] When Jerry suddenly decided to leave his job at KY3 in 2007 to enlist in the Army at age 41, he created a bit of a buzz.

“People were surprised for one or two reasons,” Jerry says. “One, because I gave up this career to join the Army, they thought that was admirable. And then the other part was, I can’t believe you’re 41 and you’re going in the Army.”

Jerry’s sudden decision not only came as a surprise to the public, but to his friends and family as well. “I hadn’t tipped my hand to anybody at all because it was one of those things where it was like – I think it’s a very personal thing,” he says. “It was a personal decision.”

Even Jerry’s best friend, KSPR anchor Joe Daues, was unaware of Jerry’s intentions. “He truly took everybody by surprise,” Daues says.

His friends told him to think about his future in journalism. His family told him to think about his age. Everyone, ultimately, was worried for his safety.

But for Jerry, the decision to enlist had nothing to do with his career or his age, it had to do with filling a need. The military needed more soldiers, and he wanted to contribute, regardless of where his life was at the moment.

“Everything I had done from college to that point was always for me,” Jerry says. “I mean, journalism is a service profession, you know, you’re serving the public with information, but I never really did anything that made me feel like I was part of the United States.”

Because of the nature of the war, many of the men and women Jerry looked up to were being sent on one deployment after another. For Jerry, a deployment for him meant one less tour someone else had to do.

“Guys were on their third and fourth deployment, and [it was] clearly taking a social, physical and mental toll on them,” Jerry says. “I’ve always thought, it’s better if our country, you know, more people pull on the rope than just a few people pull on the rope.”

On Jan. 9, 2007, his girlfriend Shannon dropped him off at the recruiting station. His only expectation was for his superiors to use him to do whatever was needed, to plug him into the hole that was leaking. And that’s exactly what they did.

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Jerry abroad as a medic, and at right, Jerry back at KY3.
(Above) Jerry serving abroad as a medic, and at right, Jerry back at KY3. (Photos courtesy Jacob, left, and KY3, right.)

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I am an American Soldier. I am a warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values. I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade. I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself. I am an expert and I am a professional. I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat. I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life. I am an American Soldier.

The Soldier’s Creed is something Jerry will always know by heart. Ever since basic training, it’s been part of who he is.

Jerry’s first year consisted of nine weeks of basic training, and then 16 weeks of advanced individual training. There, he decided to become a medic. The Army needed more able-bodied troops, but it especially needed medical professionals. That’s where Jerry thought he could help most.

After that, he went through three weeks of airborne school. [5]

Jerry’s girlfriend and parents attended his basic training graduation ceremony at Fort Benning, Ga. Jerry was Soldier of the Cycle [6] and had the top Army Physical Fitness Test score in his company. He stood at attention, saluted and recited the Soldier’s Creed. He was an American soldier.

Jerry’s second year consisted of intense training at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Once he was in, Jerry might as well have been another one of the 18-year-olds he was training alongside. As long as a soldier meets or exceeds each Army requirement, age doesn’t matter.

Daues remembers visiting Jerry before his first deployment and being startled at the transformation in his closest friend. He describes Jerry as a “lean, mean, fighting machine.”

“It was funny because he was the oldest guy and everyone made fun of that, yet he outshined everybody else,” Daues says. “He was faster, he was stronger, and he was smarter.”

While Jerry was all of these things, he was still human, and he was being deployed to combat zones. He knew that he might return from war injured or scarred — or in a body bag.

The thing about Jerry, though, is he isn’t afraid of much. In fact, he operated under the noble mindset of “better me than him.” [7] When it came time for his first deployment, he was ready.

“I figure, I go over there, I get blown up, I had my 20s and 30s. An 18-year-old goes over there and gets blown up, he’s giving up or she’s giving up so much more. That is a greater sacrifice than if I go over there and get blown up,” Jerry says. “When you get killed you lose the day you got killed to the one you would have died otherwise, that’s what you’ve sacrificed. The older you get, the less of a sacrifice it is, was my mentality.”

In October 2008, Jerry shipped off to Iraq, but not before he took care of some important business on the home front. He had found a girl who supported him completely; he married Shannon before he left.

The honeymoon would have to wait, though. It was time for Jerry to put all his training as a medic into practice. He had put on thousands of practice tourniquets before he put his first one on in combat, and in the next three years he put on hundreds more that saved countless lives of wounded soldiers.

From the first one to the last, he says he remembers them all.

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While Iraq was Jerry’s first offshore military experience, it was his second deployment that had the greatest impact on him. In January 2010, a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake rattled Haiti. More than 300,000 people died, 300,000 were injured and one million were left homeless. Within days, the U.S. Army sent troops to Haiti under Operation Unified Response to provide humanitarian assistance. “We got there and it was just like, wow, where do you start?” Jerry says.

One particular image is burned into Jerry’s brain: An entire family — mom, dad and five kids — were left without their legs. When the earthquake hit, the family was asleep in a line on one side of their house. The wall opposite them came down, crushing their legs underneath it. “Multiply that times thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands,” Jerry says. “It’s crazy. I mean, it’s just nuts.”

“I mean, journalism is a service profession, you know, you’re serving the public with information, but I never really did anything that made me feel like I was part of the United States.”

Then, just as quickly as his squad came, they left. “When we left it was just, you gotta go,” Jerry says. “I mean, I gotta go to Afghanistan, this guy’s gotta go to recruiting duty, he’s got to go to drill sergeant school, and we’ve got to get on with our lives, and these people are just effed.”

After Jerry’s grueling stint in Haiti, his friends and family worried he would be sent over to Afghanistan, right into the line of fire. They tried to see if he could be transferred to Fort Leonard Wood, the U.S. Army base in south-central Missouri, and complete his service there, but it was only wishful thinking. Jerry was there to serve. He would go where he was needed.

“We were thrilled when he got back from Iraq, because you never know, we cover that stuff every day,” Daues says. “I was checking the D.O.D. website to make sure he made it through the day.” When he was sent to Afghanistan, that fear set in again.

Jerry doesn’t talk about Afghanistan. All he’ll say about the most dangerous year of his life is that it was “nukin’ futs.”

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Jerry with his unit abroad. He served in Afghanistan, Haiti and Iraq.
Jerry with his unit abroad. During his five years in the Army, he served in Afghanistan, Haiti and Iraq. (Photo courtesy Jacob.)

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From the moment he enlisted, people were asking him what he was going to do when he got out. Was he going to return to KY3? Was he going to write a book? Was he going to work in medicine? Jerry describes feeling like a drowning man being asked what he was going to have to eat once he made it to shore, when all he was trying to do was stay afloat.

“I had no time or ability, really, to think about my future while I was there,” Jerry says. “Really, it was day to day.”

Jerry made it back to Fort Bragg safe and sound. Soon after, he received what he calls his “get out of jail free card,” his DD Form 214. Generally referred to as simply DD214, the document is a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty. Jerry received his on Nov. 10, 2011, one day before Veterans Day.

Jerry says he felt good about leaving when he did because the Army no longer needed him. Thousands of troops were leaving the Middle East, returning stateside to continue their military careers. “If they still needed me, I’d have stayed in,” Jerry says. “And I miss it every day. I really do, I miss it a lot … You can’t replicate it.”

He had two months of vacation built up – referred to as terminal leave because it’s taken at the end of one’s time in service – so while Jerry was technically still in the Army until January, he was able to return home. “I had to officially sign out, and then I got in my truck and I drove 16 hours home,” Jerry says. “That’s what I did. I put everything in the back of my truck and I drove home.”

Only then did Jerry have time to think about his next step. For most servicemen and women, the military is a lifelong career. When they leave the service, they retire.

Jerry, on the other hand, was far from retirement. He’s a vet who had to find another job. It wasn’t as if KY3 was going to hold his anchor spot for him for until he returned, but he thought he could probably go back to work at the station in some capacity. He also had a completely new set of medic skills that would open doors in the medical field. He had two options, but he just didn’t really like the sound of either.

When he pulled into his driveway, he started thinking about how he’d never have to run another Army drill again. Shannon and some of their friends were out on the porch, waiting to welcome him home. Since his return from Afghanistan, Jerry had felt completely and utterly alone. Now he was back for good, home with his wife and his dog and his friends.

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Jerry is back in Springfield, standing third in line at a Walmart checkout lane. It’s July 2012. The person in front of him is complaining about how long the line is, and it’s all Jerry can do to keep his mouth shut. “It’s like, you’re in a building, with everything you could possibly ever need in your entire life, with air conditioning,” Jerry says. “And you can get medicine, food, clothing, luxury items, and you’re complaining because you have to wait 30 seconds to get it.”

A lot has changed for Jerry in the last five years, and how could it not? He had grown accustomed to the Army way, and now it is time to readjust. When Jerry first returned home, he found he was having a tough time letting some things go, and there was no one who could understand. He met with a counselor, who gave him the advice he needed: You’re back physically, but you’re not back mentally. You need to come back mentally into the civilian world.

Jerry has come to terms with the fact that he’s different from who he was five years ago, and that that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He still locates the exits, wherever he is, and he still glances periodically at people’s hands. As long as you can see the hands, you’re safe, he says. You can’t blow anything up without your hands. More importantly, though, he no longer sweats the small stuff.

“He’s got a really good perspective on what is and what isn’t important in life right now,” Daues says. He’s noticed the change in Jerry both personally and professionally.

Jerry views his life linearly. He graduated high school, finished college, worked his way up through television news over a successful 20-year career. There was always a career ladder, always a logical next step. Then he joined the Army, a drastic career change.

For Jerry, to return to broadcast news would be a step backwards. However, his job choices in Springfield were limited. KY3 offered him a political reporting job, and he took it. [8] He started in February.

But after what he’s been through, he says politics seems trivial. He didn’t even watch TV in his five years of service. His greatest pet peeve now is when political figures tell him that we need to “take America back.” All that talk about our country under siege by our own political leaders, our country in peril. His eyes narrow just thinking about it. “America’s fine,” he says with more than a hint of frustration. “Go to Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan…. We’re fine.”

In his job as a reporter, Jerry used to be a perfectionist. “This word needs to be here. This picture needs to be three frames to the right,” Jerry says, mimicking his former self. Now, he says he no longer gets worked up about the small details because he knows it “simply and utterly does not matter.”

Jerry says since he’s returned stateside, he goes through his workday to get home. He used to live to work; now he works to live.

“The reason you fight a war is so that you can enjoy peace,” Jerry says. “And so now I’m enjoying the peace. And I don’t find peace at work, I find peace at home, so I love to be at home.”

Compared to where he’s been, he says, Springfield is paradise.

“My perspective is 180 degrees from where it used to be. Is it better? Is it worse? It’s just different,” Jerry says. “And I don’t know what can change it. It hasn’t faded. If anything it’s gotten more and more vivid because the more people I run into, the more I realize how different I am from them all.”

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Jerry keeps a photo of a fallen comrade with him wherever he goes. His name is CJ, a fellow medic who was killed in Iraq in 2008. It’s the first thing he sees when he opens his wallet; it’s there so he never forgets. Jerry knew a handful of people who were killed in the war, many of whom were members of his squad.

He says a bad car crash is as bad as anything you’re going to see in a war. “But it’s that you might know that person. That you don’t come back from,” Jerry says. “Or if you watch them die. Or if they’re burning in a truck and there’s nothing you can do to save them and you have to hear them die. Stuff like that is off the charts.”

He can’t talk about his service without talking about the service of others, saying that, by comparison, the time he spent in the ranks was almost like “a cup of coffee.”

“It’s not like my life wouldn’t have been complete had I not done it,” Jerry says. “At this point, I can’t imagine what five years without it passing would have meant.”

“The reason you fight a war is so that you can enjoy peace. And so now I’m enjoying the peace. And I don’t find peace at work, I find peace at home, so I love to be at home.”

Jerry didn’t enlist looking for adventure. He didn’t enlist looking for recognition. He wanted to serve, and he wanted to protect. He won’t even disclose what his uniform looked like by the end of his duty. “I got a deployment patch,” he says, “let’s put it that way.” He went in a news anchor and came out a sergeant.

The viewers on KY3 know this. They’ve seen the station’s short on-air segments, about the lessons he learned abroad and the things he saw. They’ve continued to invite him into their living rooms, to listen.

For now, Jerry Jacob will keep going on air. It’s what he’s always done. He’ll step before the camera, and he’ll report on the upcoming election, the candidates, their platforms.

He’s traded in his uniform for a suit, and he’s going to keep it that way. He’ll stand in plain sight, the familiar face that his viewers have always known. When they look at his suit, they’ll see the old Jerry they remember — albeit with a little less hair.

But they can’t possibly know how much he’s changed.

There are certain stories from his time abroad that he won’t share on air, and doesn’t plan to — his year in Afghanistan, the memories from Haiti.

It’s always been his job to talk, but five years after he left for war, and six months after he returned from it, there are some things he’ll never say.