Alumnus had key role in Marines’ historic raid
Editor’s note: This story is reprinted from the May issue of GCU Magazine. To view the digital version of the magazine, click here.
By Jeannette Cruz
Scenes of pirates invading ships on the high seas have been dramatized in movies and cartoons for years, but true inspiration is translated from true events.
When Somali pirates hijacked the Magellan Star just after dawn on Sept. 9, 2010, two dozen U.S. Marine commandos were called to stop them. Among the combatants was Marine Corps Major Jackie Schiller II, who was inducted into the Grand Canyon University Alumni Hall of Fame in February.
Platoons swarmed the decks and surrounded the armed pirates with two warships and circling Navy helicopters, giving them no chance to react. The mission, about 85 miles south of the Yemeni town of al Mukalla, marked the first time U.S. military forces had ever boarded a ship actively controlled by Somali pirates.
“There was definitely tension,” Schiller said. “But the Marines — we are famous for going strong.”
The 11-member crew of the German ship was barricaded in a safe room and had killed the ship’s engine, leaving the vessel to float dead in the water. The Marines captured the suspected pirates, gained control of the ship and freed the crew in less than 24 hours.
“In my belief, that mission was such a success because of the overwhelming force we presented the enemy,” said Schiller, who developed the fire support measures and observed the mission from the belly of the naval ship through various cameras and video feeds. “Our training is no different than real-life operation — there is force, there is anxiety and there is excitement. Our real concern is always about taking care of our men. That is critical to our culture.”
Like father, like son
Schiller, who earned his master’s in Leadership from GCU in 2007 and his doctoral degree in Organizational Leadership last year, said he always knew he “wanted to be a hero” like his father, Jackie Schiller I.
Like most military children, Schiller spent his early years changing schools, making new friends and living in different parts of the world. By the time he graduated from high school in Texas, he had gone to 16 different schools and his father was deployed overseas on the island of Okinawa, Japan. Though his father never pushed him to join the Marine Corps, he did instill in him a sense of duty and pride.
“It’s a funny story,” Schiller said. “When I came to my father at age 20 and said, ‘I want to join the Marines and go fight in Desert Storm,’ he said, ‘I will not talk to you about this, son, until you wait 72 hours and come back to me then.’ I had to wait in silence for three days and think about my declaration — after which he was excited to talk about it.
“My father is inspirational to just about anybody. I grew up with that ideal of directing my energy beyond the surface of my life for something greater, and I wanted to be something greater than myself.”
It was after enlisting that he found his passion and purpose. For nearly 22 years, Schiller trained, traveled around the world and transformed his outlook on life. He even met his wife, Darcy, while stationed in Hawaii.
Of all his experiences, he said the most rewarding were providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in Pakistan and supporting East Timor’s transition to independence.
Yet, despite his highest appreciation for his service, he confessed that the most difficult aspect of military life was the toll it took on family. Finally, in 2014, after working three years as Marine officer instructor at the University of Notre Dame, Schiller sensed that it was time to retire from the Marine Corps.
Teaching military values and ethics
Schiller said his time with the military ingrained values that he still uses daily as senior military instructor of the Marine Corps JROTC at Round Rock (Texas) High School, where he emphasizes leadership and character development.
“I love it,” Schiller said. “I feel like I’ve transitioned into a wise old sage who doesn’t go out to battle anymore, and I notice that when I’m on a tangent of stories and I get excited, my students get excited about life. That’s how I can tell that my experiences impact them.”
Schiller said the biggest misconception about JROTC is that it is a high school boot camp or recruiting tool for the military. While the high school program was born with the passage of the National Defense Act of 1916, the idea is to motivate young people to become better American citizens.
“I’m concerned about our younger generation in regard to their willpower, persistence and grit,” he said. “I’m not here to recruit. In fact, I want to see them go off to college. Our ultimate goal is to make them positive influencers in society.”
Contact Jeannette Cruz at email@example.com or (602) 639-6631.