Pryor Times — “Every morning I wake up, with Oklahoma on my mind,”
With his guitar, his gun and his camera Jake Marlin is telling the stories of war.
Itching to see the world, Marlin dusted off his boots and reported for duty March 26, 2006.
Born in Adair, raised in Osage, bright-eyed and ambitious Marlin joined the Army because he wanted to experience the world outside the county line.
Now a Sgt in the Army, Marlin is stationed in Mons, Belgium where he works as a broadcast non-commissioned officer.
Though it wasn't the job or location he planned, Marlin loves where he's landed.
“When I joined I wanted to be an infantryman but there were no classes available. I wanted to do military intelligence but my eyesight is too bad,” said Marlin. “They suggested broadcast journalism and said it is the smallest career field in the Army, and the most deployable, so I jumped on it.”
Marlin, who said he's been to nearly every airport east of the Mississippi, first spent 15 months in Kuwait. Then, as Operation Unified Response, he spent three months in Haiti for earthquake response.
“I spent a year in Afghanistan training their police force to be journalists,” said Marlin, who said the task presented a bit of a challenge. “We go through 16 weeks of training to get basic knowledge, and at that point I had six years of experience. So trying to teach something that's second nature to you, to people who may not be able to read and write, was a challenge.”
Marlin said content and style presented another challenge saying, “We do AP style, and everything they do is very editorial.”
Marlin said there was a particular public relations officer that fought with the Russians in the 1970's before joining the Afghan army, who didn't think he had anything to learn from a newbie.
“Public affairs is a crucial part of what the military does, we call it non-lethal fire. A lot of video you see if war comes from people like me, so teaching them how to get their story out is crucial,” said Marlin. “Afghanistan was a forgotten war for a while because of public relations.”
He said its about showing the civilian public what their forces are doing and what they need in addition to giving “warm fuzzy” updates to armed forces' families back home.
Marlin has provided more than his fair share of this combat footage to main stream media outlets.
“We produce a lot of b-roll, so you won't hear my voice or see my face, but you'll see our experiences,” said Marlin, who has worked in video, audio and print journalism.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's Defense Minister Summit, five presidential missions, the Nov. 5 Ft. Hood Shooting and Sarah Palin's visit to Kuwait are among the events Marlin has personally covered, his footage being seen on CNN, Fox News, and other major media outlets.
The story Marlin is most proud of though, isn't about a government official or military hero, it's about a young manwith a passion for patriotism.
“There's a cemetery here in Belgium for soldiers. It's a big deal for families to remember the soldiers and their sacrifice so people adopt graves. They make sure it always looks good, they switch out flowers constantly. They do research on the soldier so they know his back story, they go all out. I did a story on 16-year old, Jelle Tess, who personally adopted five of those graves because he was so moved by their sacrifice,” said Marlin, who was moved by their patriotism.
As if it was no big deal Marlin said he is currently working on a 30 minute special to air for the Pentagon in honor of the 100 year anniversary of World War One.
Marlin, whose Oklahoma drawl can be heard over the airwaves by 18,000 service members, now does radio shows, produces commercials, produces television stories and news content, writes blogs and monitors social media while also managing and overseeing other broadcasters. In addition to his journalist duties, Marlin has traditional Army responsibilities like weapons training.
“I'm never civilian-safe, really. Whether you're deployed or in the states the second you put on a uniform you're putting a target on yourself, the Ft. Hood shooting proves that” said Marlin, his voice more serious. “Not everyone thinks we're the greatest country in the world.”
Now settled in Belgium with his wife and two sons, Marlin says he's there until 2016, “unless we start another war, then I'll stick around.”
Culturally, he said, Belgium is very different, but the landscape looks a lot like home. Just this week they were bailing hay, reminding Marlin of where he comes from.
“It is different though. In the Summer it doesn't get dark until 11:30 p.m. and nobody over here believes in air conditioning. Plus they use euros here. And converting everything to kilometers and Celsius means doing a lot of math,” Marlin joked.
His three and four year old sons attend a Belgium school that speaks only French.
Marlin said his time in the Army has turned out to be more than he dreamed of.
“It's everything I thought it would be, and more. I've learned a lot about the world I was so naïve about. Seeing the news as it happens and seeing firsthand the cause and effect of the decisions I didn't used to pay attention to is huge. It's more than I thought I'd get to do as a boy from Mayes County,” said Marlin.
Marlin's parents, who were upset at first, have realized just how good the experience has been for their oldest son.
“I don't expect my kids, my brothers, to join, it's my thing. I'm doing this, it's my contribution for the Marlin family,” said Marlin, the pride and responsibility obvious in his tone despite the ocean between him and home.
Toting his guitar from one war-torn country to the next, Marlin always carries a piece of home. He's been able to pursue his musical ambitions while in the military, playing in bars and in weddings. The strumming soldier even found the time to record an album in Nashville on one of his trips home.
The other Americans in Belgium appreciate Marlin bringing country music to Mons.
“There are no country music stations in Belgium. The Italians and the Brits like it, the Irish love it, the Belgian and the French, not so much,” said Marlin who's bringing a little Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, proving that you can take the boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of the boy. A Mayes County man at heart, Marlin writes songs of homesickness with lyrics like “Every morning I wake up, with Oklahoma on my mind, no matter where I lay my head down.”
Sgt. Marlin was scheduled to be home for the Forth of July, but due to unforeseen circumstances and a broken down airplane, he's spending the holiday in Belgium.
“It's just another day over here, but we'll do it up right, Oklahoma style,” said Marlin.
He said it's nice to see the United States overflow with patriotism a few times a year, but that's not what keeps him going. Whether it's the motivation for servicemen and women or not, Marlin said keep it up.
“If you see someone in uniform buy them a beer or a cup of coffee but know that even if you don't, they'll keep doing it anyway,” said Marlin.
“We don't do it for the pats on the back, or to get people to fly their flag a little higher,” said Marlin. “We do it because it needs to be done.”