As part of an article featuring a veteran adventure therapy organization, SOFREP was fortunate to speak with retired Force Recon Marine Staff Sergeant Jonathon Blank about his background and experiences working with Mission Volant.

Tell us a little bit about your military background

I was born in Wichita, KS.  I enlisted in the Marine Corps in May of 2005, and underwent recruit training a year later at 1st Recruit Training Battalion, Alpha Company, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, Ca.  In November of 2006, I completed Infantry Training Battalion at Camp Pendleton, Ca.

After graduating the Basic Reconnaissance Course in 2007, I reported to 3rd Plt, Delta Co, 1st Reconnaissance Bn.  I was put into training in deep reconnaissance and direct action, and served in billets of point man, slack man, and assistant radio operator.   In June of 2007, I attended the US Army Airborne course and in August 2007 I attended the US Naval SERE course before going back to Delta Co, 1st Recon Bn.  In January of 2008, as a Corporal, I went to Kuwait in support of the 1st MEF in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The main focus was training and demonstration of the deployment capabilities of Delta Co.  In July of 2008 Delta Co. was redesignated Force Reconnaissance Co, I MEF and I was chosen to remain within the new company and continue the work of rebuilding Force Reconnaissance. During this time, I attended training in Mountain Warfare, the Joint Fires Observer Course, Machine Gun Trainer Course, and 1st SOTG’s Dynamic Assault Course.

In March of 2009, I graduated from the Scout Sniper basic course at the West Coast School House. Then in May of 2009, I graduated from the 1st Marine Division’s Scout Sniper school in Camp Pendleton, Ca.  Later in the same month, I graduated from Multi-Mission Parachute System Double Bag Static Line Parachutist course.  There I jumped multiple daytime and nighttime mission profiles from altitudes ranging from 5,000 to 24,700 ft.  In January of 2010, I attended Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center’s Animal Packer Course, and shortly after graduated from the Tier One Groups’ Advanced Urban Combat Course.  This was followed by the Accuracy First Advanced Sniper Course.

In May of 2010, I deployed with Force Reconnaissance Company (I MEF) to Operation Enduring Freedom.  During this time, I served as assistant radio operator to Team 1, 3rd Plt.  On Oct 26, 2010, I was severely injured in an IED blast while conducting long range reconnaissance in the Upper Sangin River Valley, of Helmand Province Afghanistan.  It was the sixth month of a seven-month combat tour.  I was medevac’d to Germany, to England, and finally to the United States in early November of 2010.  I was assigned as a patient with Wounded Warrior Bn. East in Dec of 2010, and it was there that I learned to walk in prosthetics and underwent several surgeries.  On Oct 1, 2012, I was promoted to Staff Sergeant.  I was medically retired from the Marine Corps on March 30 2014, and am currently pursuing a career in acting and fashion modeling.

How did you find out about Mission Volant?

A fellow Force Reconnaissance Marine, Jim Staley, knew of my aspirations to get back into sky diving.  He was pretty supportive in getting me involved in more action adventure type recreations. It just so happens that he occasionally employs Mike Semanoff who is a Mission Volant jumper.  Together they put me in contact with Rob via text messages.  Then within a week or so I was falling from the sky with Rob.  I was really surprised how fast things moved and how sincere he was about getting my training going.

How has Mission Volant helped you personally?

Well first of all they are helping me realize my goal of getting back into jumping, which is amazing.  It’s been a life goal of mine since my injury.  I’ve worked with very few nonprofits that have shown such dedication, patience, and sincerity with helping vets.  I feel veterans of my character and personality type need these types of activities in their lives.  They need adrenaline, action, adventure, challenges, and change in order to feel like they are truly living their lives to the fullest, to ward off depression brought on by injuries and the monotony of civilian life.  I mean I know its these types of characteristics that attracted me to the Reconnaissance community and made me successful there.  Now that I can no longer be an active member of the community, I need to dive into new activities and hobbies that satisfy these needs.  Mission Volant is truly “adventure therapy.”  The adrenaline rush that I get from jumping out of plane is extremely therapeutic for me.  It’s good for my mind, body, and soul.  Not only is it that, but for me it’s a direct link to my former occupation. Maintaining that skill set of jumping, for me is way to stay connected in a small way to a life and life style I wasn’t ready to leave.

What would you say to other veterans who might be hesitant to let organizations like Mission Volant work with them?

I would say that I understand their hesitation.  That there are lots of organizations out there that are looking to exploit vets for profit.  I’d say do your research into the organization; ask other veterans firsthand about their experiences.  Don’t be quick to sell yourself short of what could be an amazing experience and deny civilians the chance to give back to vets.  In many cases it’s therapeutic for them too. As for Mission Volant, I can give my full recommendation of this organization to any veteran who is thinking about getting into the sport of sky diving.

SSgt Blank’s awards include:

Navy and Marine Corps parachute insignia, Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with combat V, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Medal, Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon, Sea Service Deployment ribbon, Combat Action ribbon, Global war on terrorism service Medal, Afghanistan campaign Medal, NATO Medal -ISAF Afghanistan, Iraq Campaign Medal.