Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
The pursuit of the American Dream was the theme of Army veteran Frankz Jacobsen’s remarks at the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth Hispanic Heritage Month observance Oct. 6 in Eisenhower Hall’s DePuy Auditorium.
The event was streamed live on the CAC Facebook page.
“My family always spoke about the American Dream,” Jacobsen said. “They spoke about the American Dream like it was this far-fetched idea, like it was this fantasy island that if we could just get there, we could have the opportunity to achieve our dreams and our goals and to have a chance for a better life.”
Jacobsen grew up in Peru living in a three-bedroom apartment with his mother, grandparents and eight aunts and uncles. When he was a young boy in the early 80s, he endured the Shining Path terrorist group that was trying to take over Peru, and he said he and his family would often huddle in one room at night while fighting continued outside the home.
During that time, the chance to pursue the American Dream came to fruition when Jacobsen’s mother immigrated to the United States. After she worked multiple jobs and saved up enough money, Jacobsen was able to come to the U.S. in 1982 on a student visa. They settled in Paterson, N.J.
“Immigrants come to this country and see this country with a fresh set of eyes. We see the opportunity,” Jacobsen said. “We recognize the benefits and the values that this country offers.
“For most of us, we spent all of our life savings just to have an opportunity to live the American Dream. There is no plan B,” he said. “There is no safety net that will catch us if anything goes wrong. We are a stranger in a strange land trying to adjust to the customs and traditions of a new country. We have a survivor mentality. We’ve risked it all for the American Dream. America, the land of the free, the land where all dreams come true, and it is the beacon of hope for many of us.”
Jacobsen said it wasn’t an easy adjustment when he first arrived. He said he didn’t speak or understand English, so he often sat quietly in the school classroom trying his best to understand. But, eventually, he said American football changed things for him.
“It was a way for me to connect with other kids. It was a way for me to have fun,” Jacobsen said. “Futbol Norteamericano gave me a purpose.”
Jacobsen said playing football helped him meet lifelong friends, and he found success in the sport, winning several championship titles. However, despite his success in football, college scholarships did not come in, and he didn’t have the grades to qualify for an academic scholarship, so he said he decided to join the military.
“The Army in those days had the slogan that said, ‘Be All You Can Be,’ and I wanted to be all that I could be,” Jacobsen said. “And the military had a different kind of scholarship. It was called the G.I. Bill. It was the opportunity for me someday to go to school, so I took that opportunity.
“I look back and I realize that I needed the military more than the military needed me,” he said. “It provided me instruction, it provided me direction, it provided me a sense of belonging and discipline. It is one of the greatest things that I truly believe I did.”
A year into his service, he said he didn’t hesitate when his commander called an emergency meeting asking for 10 volunteers to meet with a unit already deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Desert Storm. He said the question was the same from his family and friends — Why did you sign up to go to war?
“It’s a small token to give back to a country that has provided so much for my family,” Jacobsen would respond.
“War changes us all,” he said. “You quickly realize that there is a thin line between life and death and, at quiet times, you have an opportunity to reflect. I often thought about someday maybe going to school, someday maybe playing football. It was just my internal motivation to someday have that opportunity.”
When he returned from deployment, Jacobsen said he became a U.S. citizen and eventually enrolled in a community college with the encouragement of his command sergeant major. His military service, credits from the community college and a referral letter from the same command sergeant major led to his enrollment at Western State College of Colorado in Gunnison, Colo., now Western Colorado University, in August 1993. He graduated with a liberal arts degree and a sociology minor in July 1997. He said his experiences in the military helped him on the journey to his graduation.
“You have to fall back on the skills and experience that you gain in the military when you get out in the real world. You have to be willing to show up first and leave last,” Jacobsen said. “You have to be willing to do all the little extra credit things that might not even pertain to your job.
“Find something that you’re passionate about,” he said. “Give back to others. Work harder. Ask tons of questions. Be all that you can be.”
Jacobsen currently works as a sales leader for State Farm Insurance. Visit the CAC Facebook page to view his full remarks.