Father Of Marine Killed In Kabul Reflects On His Son's Life Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz was among the 13 U.S. service members killed in a bombing in Kabul last week. His father, Mark, has a message for fellow Americans.

Father Of Marine Killed In Kabul Reflects On His Son's Life And Saying 'I Love You'

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden says he had a choice when he decided to wrap up the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: So we're left with a simple decision - either follow through on the commitment made by the last administration and leave Afghanistan, or say we weren't leaving and commit another tens of thousands more troops going back to war. That was the choice, the real choice, between leaving or escalating. I was not going to extend this forever war.

MARTIN: Two thousand four hundred and sixty-one American troops died in Afghanistan over the last 20 years. Thirteen of them died just this last week in an attack on the Kabul airport. Among them was Lance Corporal Jared Schmitz. He was 20 years old, just six months old when 9/11 happened. The U.S. was fighting in Afghanistan his entire life. Jared grew up near St. Louis. I talked with his dad, Mark Schmitz, yesterday. We were interrupted a couple of times as people came to pay their respects.

MARK SCHMITZ: I'm on a phone interview. Just a moment, please. Sorry, we have just a steady stream of people coming here. Thank you, Sue (ph). Thank you very much.

MARTIN: I asked Mark to give us a sense of who his son was, what he was like as a kid.

SCHMITZ: Jared was an energetic little guy. He was constantly happy. If you had the opportunity to look through our photo albums, you would see that no matter how we captured him on a camera, he was always smiling nonstop, just, you know, the light of the world. And he's just always a very upbeat, positive kid and a lot of energy. You know, and as he got a little bit older, he developed his personality type, and I saw what that was becoming, you know, it just made me more and more proud as each day went by, because I could see that he was turning into a very compassionate young man and kid and has always been so selfless.

MARTIN: Do you remember when Jared told you he wanted to become a Marine?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, it was about sophomore year of high school. Gut reaction - probably an equal mix of proudness as well as fear, concern, you know, naturally, getting - going into a line of work that was potentially harmful. But I knew that it fit him like a glove. I own a business and told him, look, you know, you got options of going off to college and then coming in and taking over the family business, too. And he's like, you know, thank you, but this is what I want to do.

MARTIN: This was his first deployment to Afghanistan, wasn't it? Did he tell you he was going?

SCHMITZ: He told me he couldn't tell me. And like a good father, I got it out of him (laughter) and told him, you know, you've got to be incredibly careful. He told us they were going to put him on post, didn't tell us where initially, and then four days goes by. We hadn't heard from him, but I had been watching the news and saw that nothing had been happening, so I wasn't concerned. But shortly after that, we get a text from him saying, I'm finally off of post. They're letting us get some sleep after four days. And once I get off of my R&R, I'll be able to go back out on post, but I think I'm going on the airstrip. I said, oh, cool, they're kind of, you know, moving you guys around, so you get a little bit different experience.

MARTIN: And he meant the airstrip at Kabul airport.

SCHMITZ: Yeah. On the - not on the gate anymore but on the airstrip, 'cause he had told us he was - he had been on the gate for four days. So then when this attack happened, you know, I was just - gut-wrenching feeling for our military and their families, you know, that somebody just lost their life over this - in the back of my mind, though, of course, thinking, well, my son's OK, at least, you know? That's - thank God for that, you know? No disrespect to those that had perished.

MARTIN: Right.

SCHMITZ: Another day goes by, still hadn't heard from him, and I'm starting to get kind of worked up and upset. Like, what's going on? Why is he not getting a hold of us? My friend Patrick (ph), who is a Marine as well - he's like, look, he's real busy, so he'll get to you when he can. I'm sure everything's just fine. And it was later that night - 2:40 in the morning - I hear knocking on the door, and there's two dark silhouettes, you know, on the other side of our glass door. I flip the porch light on, and the lights just went right on their ribbons and medals on their - you know, the breast part of their jackets and uniforms.

My heart just sunk. You know, I'm like, OK, they're here to tell me he's injured and what his injuries are. It took forever for them to get me to comprehend that they were there to deliver the most horrific news of his passing and that he had been killed and not injured. I was half asleep initially, of course, and then just obviously in sheer shock that they were even there to begin with.

MARTIN: So that conversation where you managed to get Jared to tell you he was deploying to Afghanistan - that was your last with him.

SCHMITZ: That was my last phone conversation with him.

MARTIN: Yeah.

SCHMITZ: But we had - we'd been able to stay in communication via text on that little break he had between the first initial four days of being over there.

MARTIN: Yeah.

SCHMITZ: I was looking for some information that he had given me a while back, so I had to jump into my text messages today, and I went back and scrolled back to the most recent conversations with him and just to make sure I - you always tell your kids you love them, but you just want to make sure you got that last one in, you know?

MARTIN: Yeah.

SCHMITZ: And I did, thank God. But, you know, it was so hard because I was scrolling back so far, all the way back to Father's Day, and there's a message from him in there. And my son is telling me how proud he is of me, you know? He has no idea. I can't even hold a candle to that young man. He has taught me so much. He's a hell of an American, a true hero in every sense of the word.

I get so many people right now that are like, what can we do? What can we do? And, you know, you appreciate all the outpouring of support, of course. I racked my brain, and I'm like, what can people do? And the best I could come up with is for everybody out there to reach out to a service member who's currently serving - you know, somebody who's stationed somewhere. Call them. Just let them know you're thinking about them. I mean, these guys need as much love and support as they can possibly get for everything they're doing for us.

MARTIN: I want to ask - you went to Dover - Dover Air Force Base - last weekend, when Jared's remains and those of the other service members were returned to the U.S. Do you mind sharing with me your reflections from that day?

SCHMITZ: They were asking if anybody preferred not to meet the president. And there were several that did not want to, and I was one of them at first. Then, after being able to sleep on that, I decided that I owed it to Jared to express how I felt to him. So I changed my mind the next day and decided to go ahead and meet him.

MARTIN: What did you tell him?

SCHMITZ: I just stared him straight in the face. It was like a, you know, kids staring contest to see who was going to blink first. He kept looking away and looking and talking with my son's mother, and I just kept staring and staring and staring. And I'm sure Secret Service probably picked up on my body language and was moving in a little closer - not that I would ever do anything, of course, but I just - I didn't have a lot of good thoughts about the man. And I just stood there quietly, just staring.

And finally, my son's mother had brought her phone out and asked if she could show him a picture of Jared. It happened - ironically, had just been sent to us shortly before our visit by one of his fellow Marine brothers that was there with him at the wall. And it was the last photo of our son taken that - the morning of. And we showed it to him and, you know, he just kind of stared at it and mumbled something. I couldn't really make out what he said.

But as he's looking at this picture of my son, I just flat-out said to him, that's Jared. That's Jared Schmitz. Don't ever forget that name, and don't forget the name of the 12 others. And you need to spend some time learning their stories, who they were. And then that's when he kind of - I've described it as barking back, 'cause I don't know how else to really describe it. But he says, I know their stories. First thought was that's literally impossible, you know? And why are you arguing with me? And then, of course, he mentions his son again.

And I will say, in all fairness, soon as I got done speaking about that and he said what he said, he reached into his pocket, and he pulled out a card. And obviously, this wasn't set up because this was immediately after what I said. And he pulls a card out, and he shows me a number. Didn't know what the number meant, but after that number was a plus 13. And he explained to me that he keeps this card with him every day as a reminder of everyone that's been lost. So there's that. So I'll give the guy kudos to him, showing up and having to do what he had to do, given the circumstances of how all this even came into play. It had to be one of the hardest things in the world for him to do as well.

MARTIN: Yeah. Is there anything else you want us all to know about your son and his sacrifice?

SCHMITZ: These aren't just words. These guys literally are gone. They have sacrificed everything for this country, and please respect our - all of our military for what they put their rear ends on the line to do. This is not a game. This is a real deal. I'll never see my son get married. I'll never see him do anything - provide me grandkids, anything. It's all gone now. It didn't need to happen. It shouldn't have happened, but - love our military. Support these guys, all of them. And turn out by the thousands when all these brothers and sisters come home to their final resting places.

MARTIN: Mark Schmitz, the father of Lance Corporal Jared Schmitz. Mark, thank you very much, and again, our deepest condolences.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

MARTIN: Jared Schmitz was one of 13 U.S. service members who was killed in the attack on the gates of the Kabul airport last week. They were the last U.S. troops to die in America's longest war.

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