The Stalnecker family always put emphasis on serving others rather than themselves. They were not a military family, but the Stalneckers valued their country and valued those who served it. Even their son, Jeremy Stalnecker, quickly connected his family’s core beliefs to the military.
“I read [“They Met Danger” by Gordon Shirreffs] when I was probably 11 years old,” Stalnecker said. “I think that was probably the first time I started to understand military as a way to live for something bigger than yourself [and] to serve people outside of yourself because that’s what all those stories highlighted.”
As Stalnecker got older, he began meeting people who had either served or were currently serving in the military. It was then when Stalnecker had an epiphany and knew right away he wanted to be in the Marine Corps. Fast forward a few years, down the road, Stalnecker was living his dream as an Infantry Platoon Commander.
After his time in Iraq with the Corps, Stalnecker returned home and spent the next seven years as a pastor at Bay Area Baptist Church in Fremont, Calif. Then one day, Stalnecker met Chad Robichaux, a Force Recon Marine who had just come back from Afghanistan and who was struggling with severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“One of the only things he found that did help him was Jiu-Jitsu,” Stalnecker said. “…Jiu-Jitsu has been a tremendous tool for a lot of veterans who are transitioning out of the military … When you transition out of the military, you lose a couple of things — one is community and then two is not just community, but a community of people that do hard work together. So, in a lot of ways, [Jiu-Jitsu] fulfills that role for a lot of people.”
Stalnecker stated he and Robichaux soon became friends and began talking about faith and their relationship with God. That made all the difference for Robichaux and eventually, through his faith, he founded the Mighty Oaks Foundation.
With the organization just getting started, Stalnecker joined full-time, helping out with writing the curriculum and developing the programs within the organization. The goal for both Stalnecker and Robichaux was for the foundation to connect with veterans and create a community.
“There just weren’t really any programs for that, where people could come together, talk, and deal with what they [struggled] with, with an understanding of faith,” Stalnecker said. “That’s why we started it. It was really bringing together all of the things that were important to us as we found our own kind of way forward after the military.”
When Stalnecker isn’t at work, he’s training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at Carlson Gracie in Murrieta, Calif., and trains alongside his kids. He said he continues to train because he wants to be around his kids, and the relationships Stalnecker makes with those in the BJJ community are an added bonus.
“I didn’t start Jiu-Jitsu until I had been out of the Marine Corps for probably 15 years so it wasn’t a transition tool for me, but it is for a lot of folks,” Stalnecker said. “Even doing the work that we do with the people we do, for me, training has been a good opportunity to connect with a lot of people who do use Jiu-Jitsu for the transition. It’s very interesting.”
Photo credits: Jeremy Stalnecker’s Instagram