Capt. Jacob Watson and his family recently met with Vice President Pence

One of my very favorite things about being Sports Editor at The Wayne Independent is the privilege of watching local kids grow into strong, confident young men and women.

It was an unexpected perk of the job when I first began and remains one of its best aspects to this day.

I start writing about your children in Little League or Missy Basketball or Youth Football. I watch anxiously, sometimes holding my breath on the sidelines, as they take their first tentative steps out into the competitive world.

From there, I follow their athletic exploits through junior high and high school. I rejoice in their triumphs and suffer silently right along with them in their hours of defeat.

Admittedly, it's an emotional roller coaster at times. But, it's a job for which I received “real life” training as an athlete myself … and, perhaps more importantly, as a dad.

I'm not supposed to show my emotions in public (journalistic objectivity, don't you know!) But, there have been moments over the past 20 years that I've genuinely had a hard time keeping it all together.

And, with some stories … like the one I'm about to relate here today … it's just about impossible to remain calm and dispassionate.

All the Signs

That Jacob Watson would one day go on to serve his country in exemplary fashion as a soldier in the United States Army comes as no surprise to those of us who watched him grow up.

Jake was an excellent student/athlete during his varsity years at Honesdale High School.

He played baseball and soccer and also wrestled with an eye toward one day using all these experiences on the battlefield.

Jake graduated in 2003 and, after a year in prep school, he earned an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

He accepted his commission in 2008 and headed for Fort Hood to await deployment. The first of these wound be to war-torn Afghanistan.

First Lt. Watson's unit, the 20th Engineer Battalion, 75th Regiment, 595 Sapper Company, provided support for both infantry and cavalry. His platoon specialized in clearing roads of IEDs.

It's a deadly dangerous job, but one in which he took great pride … as I found out when I first wrote about Jake's military experiences back in 2010.

“We’re the on-ground experts,” he said. “It’s our job to keep those guys safe and we take it seriously.

“There aren’t many people in the world qualified to do what we do. It’s pretty dangerous...”

Life & Death

Unfortunately, that danger became all too real one dark September night on road just outside Kandahar.

There, Lt. Watson and his patrol were hit hard by an an IED. Several of his comrades were injured in the blast, one severely.

Jake was in rough shape as well, having suffered wounds to both legs, his groin, ear and left hand.

Thankfully, due in large part to his own intestinal fortitude and the courage of his platoon mates, Lt. Watson survived the blast and lived to tell the tale.

He was evacuated to Bagram Air Base, then flown to Germany. Once he'd been operated on and stabilized, Jake began the journey home via Andrews Air Force Base and Fort Hood, Texas.

His road to recovery was a long one, but with a great deal of hard work and perseverance, he's put the worst of it behind him.

“I still have some aches and pains,” he said with a chuckle. “Sometimes I just chalk it up to getting old.

“I'm so much better now than I was then. It's pretty amazing. I'm very grateful and really thankful.”

Meet & Greet

On Monday, August 7, now-Captain Watson, his wife Brittney, children Holsten and Hayden, piled in the car and headed to downtown Washington DC.

It was to be a very special day, one which the Watson Family will remember for the rest of their lives.

They were escorted into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at 1650 Pennsylvania Avenue for a small, informal gathering.

There, the Watson Family was honored to meet Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen.

The Vice President has a well-documented appreciation for members of the military and he makes a point of showing his gratitude for their service whenever his busy schedule permits.

On this particular day, he arranged to meet several Purple Heart recipients and their families.

“It was definitely a great experience,” Capt. Watson said. “My family and I really enjoyed it. Vice President Pence and Mrs. Pence were incredibly nice.

“He seems to go out of his way to acknowledge and personally thank those of us who work with the White House Military Office.”

Capt. Watson was able to share this moment with his parents as well. Even though the entire affair came together on short notice, Jim and Brenda were able to make the trip.

“I'm very proud of Jake,” his Dad said. “It isn't every day you get to go to Washington and meet the Vice President. We had a really good time.”

Capt. Watson was especially impressed with how much at ease Mr. Pence made him feel.

“He's very easy to talk to,” Jake said. “He went out of his way to talk with each one of us. He talked with my wife and with the kids. That made an impression on me as a dad.”

Common Ground

I'm sure few would argue that it's been a contentious year in the United States.

A deep chasm seems to have opened up between the right and left, conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats.

It's a sad state of affairs, but today's tense political atmosphere can serve as a teaching point for our children and grandchildren.

In order to accomplish anything in this world, we all need to find common ground for respectful discourse. And, in my humble opinion, stories like this one … the tale of a hard-working, passionate, patriotic local lad making good … is a perfect example.

So, the next time we feel the urge to shout at one another, maybe we should take a deep breath. Maybe we should pause for a moment and think of men like Capt. Jacob Watson.

We should take pride in this hometown boy's bravery, commitment to his country and love of his family. After all, the latest scandal, tweet or protest pales in comparison to these most American of traits.

Thank you, for your service, Jake. It's an honor to know you and to have written about you!