The grainy, beige sand whipped around Maj. Jason Frei’s vehicle, whistling through cracks and blanketing everything in grit. Riding in the Humvee, Frei struggled to see. At this moment, on the third day of the ground war of Operation Iraqi Freedom, American troops pushed north past An Nazaria through a sandstorm.
Suddenly, there was a loud explosion.
“The vehicle that I was in was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade,”said Frei (MBA ’06) “We got ambushed …My vehicle was the first one hit. It hit the door and pretty much took my hand off.”
He was rushed to a field surgical hospital close to the front lines to control the bleeding and then was sent to hospitals in Kuwait, Germany, and Maryland. Eventually, he was sent to San Diego to rejoin his wife and children and to be fitted for a prosthesis.
The day he was wounded –March 25, 2003 –his life changed. National television networks and newspapers interviewed him about his experiences since he was among the first Marines injured in Iraq. He also began speaking at public gatherings for firefighters and Marines.
“Basically, sharing my experiences and what I saw when I was over there is really how you take something bad that happens to you and turn it into something good,”he said.
Frei, who graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1994, retired this fall after serving in the Marines for 10 years. In August, he took on a new challenge: the MBA program at Notre Dame. He was selected to receive an MBA fellowship.
|Valerie, Thomas, Robbie, Jason and Molly Frei
“It has been really a blessing,”Frei said of the fellowship. “It gives me a sense of obligation more than anything else …A sense of responsibility to give something back.”Before school started, Frei drove one of the family cars from San Diego to Notre Dame, closed on a house and painted it, flew back to San Diego, and then drove the other family car across country to South Bend. Shortly thereafter, his family flew out including his wife, Valerie; their 4-year-old son, Robbie; 3-year-old daughter, Molly; and 7-month-old son, Thomas.
Frei said he met a Notre Dame alumnus in his unit in Iraq and they became close friends, adding that he went on to meet more alumni in San Diego. “You’re almost immediately part of their family,”he said.
“I came from a very good family in a small town,”said Frei, who grew up in Hazen, North Dakota. “I went to the Naval Academy with lots of tradition, very, very values-based institution, very purpose driven …I went to the Marine Corps., same thing, honor, courage, commitment.”
Frei said he was looking for the same thing in a school. He was attracted to Notre Dame because of its “very high academic standards”and also because it had a long history of values and tradition. “It’s not just a school, it’s not just a university, there is something more substantial,”he said.
Frei is studying corporate finance and wants to work in the high-tech industry supporting military initiatives. “Protecting the country is something that is very important to me,”he said. “And it is a way that I can still help do that.”
Frei said he feels welcome and comfortable on the Notre Dame campus. He said he is currently reading a book by Fr. William Corby, C.S.C., who was a Chaplain in the Civil War. Memoirs of a Chaplain’s Life reads, in part: "Oh, you of a younger generation, think what it cost your forefathers to save our glorious inheritance of union and liberty!...But, no! You will not fail to cherish the prize -- it is too sacred a trust -- too dearly purchased."