Firefighter Jaymes Laughlin lives by the motto “service above self” while serving residents in East Contra Costa County and will now take that motto globally and serve the United States after recently joining the Marine Reserves.
Laughlin, a firefighter for the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District, was working his final shift Sunday at Station 93 in Oakley Sunday before heading off to boot camp. He was surprised with a going away party from fellow firefighters, Oakley Police and the Warrior Watch Riders.
That carefully orchestrated plan was put in place by Battalion Chief Brian Helmick and Spike Schau of the Warrior Watch Riders. Laughlin was hoping to sneak out of East County without much attention, but loud sirens and about 40-people did not allow that to happen as folks congratulated him on his decision to serve this great county.
“This is super-duper humbling, but we have to realize that we make the decision to go into the service because of things like this. Community outreach, people taking time out of their day to do this and coming out and making,” said Laughlin.
Laughlin explained that he had thought about joining the military for years, however, it was about what branch and how he can best serve his country. He chose the Marines for the challenge to become better as a person.
“I am looking forward to the mental challenge. Obviously there is going to be a huge physical challenge component, but at a certain physical component no matter what physical condition you put your body in the mind has to take over. If you don’t have a strong mind, I want that mental challenge,” said Laughlin. “The challenge for me is I want to be led but I want to be a good leader. I want to go out and test myself and see where my weakness are and better myself.”
ECCFPD Battalion Chief Brian Helmick called Laughlin an asset to the District and selfishly wants him to stay, but he ultimately supports Laughlins decision and backs him 100 percent.
“I think it’s appropriate for this time in his life. This is a life opportunity for him and he needs to do this. For that reason, for myself, I am really glad he is taking the opportunity to check this off his list of things to do,” said Helmick. “Selfishly, he will be missed as he is a very strong attribute to the organization (ECCFPD), however, with that being said, Jimmy has to serve in his heart and it runs through every fiber in his body and his core. He is going to be a strong attribute for the military who protects this country. I am very happy for him.”
Helmick stated that the send-off took weeks to plan and let few people know as possible so Laughlin would not be tipped. Helmick admits it turned out perfectly.
“The reason we are here today is sorely to show that not only do we love him, that we support him and we want to encourage him that when the days get tough that he can reflect back and know he has a large group of people back home that support what he does,” said Helmick.
Spike Schau of the Warrior Watch Riders stated it was important that their group participate because Laughlin is a hero and he considers him their “little brother”.
“This is important on a couple of levels,” said Schau. “It’s important to let Jimmy know how we feel about him as we do a fireman. He is a hero and now he is doubling up his effort. Not only is he a hero for his community, now he will be a hero for his country and for us to show that support to him, it means a lot to him and means a lot to some of the riders that they are here for him. It’s a therapy around the clock for all of us.”
Schau also explained that the only difference between our first responders and the military is the uniform and the battleground which they serve.
“It’s basically the same, the only difference between our first responders whether its fire, police, medical or military is the uniforms, the battle fields. Firefighters, police and fire are local and the military is wherever they send us,” said Schau. “The bottom line is we all sign up for a blank check. We are willing to give up our lives for our community or our country.”
Whitney Chandler, who is Laughlins fiancé, admitted it was a hard pill to swallow at first, but she is proud of him.
“This is very much him, this is his personality. He has really high expectations for himself and those around him. This doesn’t surprise me at all this is what he is doing. This is the perfect road for him to take,” said Chandler. “If you really know Jimmy, it takes about 5-minutes of conversation to realize this is so him. For him it’s not really surprising. I am really excited for him as it’s something we have been talking about for a while.”
In fact, the decision to go into the Marine Reserves changed their wedding date from June to September but she calls the wedding a bonus.
“It’s funny because we re-arranged wedding plans around boot camp,” said Chandler. “Being married isn’t necessarily the important thing, our relationship is. I am very lucky to have him and the wedding is a bonus to this. Just being in a relationship with someone who has the integrity that he has is impressive.”
She thinks the challenge will be good for Laughlin because he is goal oriented and always has high expectations of himself. She says the challenge is a perfect fit.
“He has very high expectations for himself and those around him; I think the discipline, the goal, and the forward direction. He is someone who always needs to be challenged. When he is not and he is stagnant, that is when there is a problem,” explained Chandler. “This is the best thing for him, it’s a constant challenge it’s him needing and wanting to be better for something that is bigger than he is. The Marines is such a good fit for him. He is a highly motivated person.”
Laughlin says he is ready for the challenge the Marines, but he is not turning down advice from others who have experienced it. He says the best advice came from a former drill instructor.
“The best advice I received is from a former drill instructor who says not make eye contact when I get there. Look everyone in the chin and be the gray man. Don’t be first and don’t be last but blend in,” said Laughlin. “If you are walking on a wooden deck and the nail is hanging up, if you are standing out, the only way you are getting back in is to be hammered back down. A nail that sticks out gets hammered back in. I am going to go down and make the best of it and embrace it while smiling my way through it.”
Laughlin can’t wait to begin the challenge and serving the community and country on a larger scale.
“For me it’s that grander scale of service and that sacrifice. How lucky are we to do what we do every day in this country and someone is out there fighting our battles. The real warrior doesn’t goes to battle because they hate what is in front of them, but because they love what is behind them,” said Laughlin. “For me, it’s no question; I have to go do it.”
Helmick thanked local firefighters, Oakley Police, AMR and the Warrior Watch Riders for showing support to Laughlin and said they are all an extended family but pointed out that he will only come back better.
“With Jimmy going out to do what he is doing for the military, he is just going to come back and be a stronger public servant for the community and the citizens which we serve,” said Helmick. “It’s just one big extended family; we are just putting Jimmy on loan for a while and look forward to having him back.”