My name is Jesse Strait. I have served as a United States Marine since 2008, serving 2 tours of duty to Afghanistan. I was born and raised in Colorado where I grew up ranching and participating in 4-H. From the time I was old enough to ride, I roped anything I could get a loop around, which inevitably gave me the desire to team rope. At 8 years old I had my first bull riding experience which led to me competing in both events in the little britches and jr rodeo associations until I enlisted. I have competed in many different associations to include the USTRC, World Series of Team Roping, PAFRA, and smaller local associations in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North Carolina, and California. At the 2013 PAFRA World Finals, I won the average and world titles in heeling. As I prepare to separate from active service this summer, I plan to step up my rodeo career to compete in the PRCA while maintaining my memberships with the World Series and USTRC. I have always had a passion for rodeo and the cowboy lifestyle, and I'm excited to further my rodeo career and work with this great organization!
A cold night in December 2011. There I was, hardly 21 years old missing a wife and 13 month old daughter back home as I'm only 2 months into my first deployment. I was a corporal of Marines, guarding an entry control point just trying to stay warm in the middle of the night in a place that was less than friendly to say the least. All of a sudden, explosions landing close from mortar fire, my team and I perk up, scouting the immediate area for any signs of an immediate threat. Simple enough right? But when the road to my entry control point is lined with contracted locals hoping to get a job from the base, and there's no clear difference between them wanting a job, and their fellow countrymen wishing to kill us, there's nothing simple about it.
As the mortar fire continues, the drivers waiting in line start running towards the gate we're guarding, hoping we'll give them shelter, but not understanding I had no place to put them. The interpreter trying his best to translate what they're saying as they run towards me, "they only want shelter, they mean no harm". I order him to tell them to go back to their trucks and wait it out, after all, Al Queda and the Taliban are not known for precise mortar attacks. Most of them return to their vehicles, but some continue towards us ignoring all orders to stop. I tell my squad to prepare, and right there it hit me, "Them or us. Their lives, or the lives of my team".
This was the most pressure, the biggest responsibility I'd ever faced in my life. Mortars raining around us, potential enemy combatants running towards our location, and realizing that the decisions I made at that exact moment were detrimental. If my post were to become compromised, there would be complete access to everything on the base from that location, so there was no way I was going to fail without a fight. I get on the radio once more "Post control, this is Tango Vic. Local nationals approaching my location, preparing to use lethal force" with a simple reply from the post commander "Tango Vic, green light". I radio my team which consisted of 2 M-ATV's equipped with .50 caliber machine guns, and 8 Marines with M-16's, M-240's, "boys, we have a green light, no one passes the 100 yard mark". There was no getting past us on this night.
A lot of these drivers were used to the process, and somewhat familiar with our operating procedures, which turned out to be a good thing on this night, as there were 2 barrels set up along the roadside, 1 painted red and placed at 100 yards out, and 1 painted yellow at 150 yards out. So maybe the locals knew that passing the red barrel would mean certain death, or maybe they just finally took heed to the interpreter's warnings to quit moving towards us, but they stopped short of the "100 yard barrel", and turned back around.
A few minutes later, the mortar fire ceased and the rest of the night was clear. I took a few moments to pull out a picture of my wife and baby (who's first birthday had just passed), kissed it, said I loved them as if they could hear me, and went back to work. Thanking God at the end of my shift that no lives were lost (on either side). Time to get some rest, write a letter, and prepare for the next night. The life of a 21 year old Marine was anything but stress free.
A year full of jackpotting and practice pens prepared for what was one of the biggest rodeos I would compete at up to this point in my life. It was 2013, and trying to find the time to rope had proven to be challenging while learning to be a single parent after a recent divorce, the schedule of being active duty military, and all the other things that come with life. But I made sure that anytime I could, I had a rope in my hand practicing what I could, when I could. I was a new member of the Professional Armed Forces Rodeo Association and I had my sights set on the World Finals in December.
My header and I had some ups and downs that year, winning some events, but getting knocked out of others. But here we were in Midland, Texas and the time had come. We were here, getting ready for the first perf of the PAFRA World Finals, and I couldn't remember the last time that I'd gotten so nervous about roping. We were sitting high in the standings, but that wasn't good enough for me. I didn't want to finish in the top, I wanted to be AT the top. They call our names as we back into the boxes, I think to myself "we have roped HUNDREDS of steers together, we can do this!"; He nods for the steer, the gates open and we're off, just like so many times before he stuck the head rope and starts to show me the corner, riding one of the best heel horses I've ever had, we come in for the shot. My horse is reading the run, I'm focused on my target, and my swing is in time with the jump of the steers hind feet; I make my delivery, pull my slack, take my dally and look for the flag. We were 6 seconds and change on our first steer! Not bad by any means.
Now we're in the second performance, and like a de ja vu, I'm trying to settle these nerves from the pressure of wanting to win. The steer runs out and I couldn't have asked for a better handle from my header, I take my shot and catch a leg! A 5 second penalty is not what I'm looking for trying to win this rodeo! It's a 3 head average and we've got some great competitors, I need to save every second I can if we're to win this. Beating myself up for slipping a leg as we ride to the back of the arena, my buddy rides up to me and reminds me "Jesse, have fun. This ain't over yet"!
The third round has arrived, we're sitting in 1st place for the average, but just like any rodeo, it is still anyone's game. After slipping a leg in the 2nd round, we were 18 seconds and change on 2 head. Sure, we may be in first right now, but another penalty could take us completely out of the placing. We back in, I take a couple deep breaths, waiting for the gates to crack I'm running over the basics in my head, thinking about my position, the tip of my rope, where my target needs to be, and making my delivery. The steer rattles the gates and my horse jumps, I pull back on him and my reins break! This is the LAST thing I needed as I'm in the box ready for the final steer. I dismount, tie a knot in my reins, get back on and tell my buddy "let's do this". He calls for the steer, we make a text book run stopping the clock at 7 seconds and change. We made a great run, and that's all we could do. Now it's just time to let the rest of the teams make their runs and see how everything shakes out.
At the end of the rodeo, we had done it! My hard work and preparation, and our work together as a team had paid off. We had won the average, and thanks to point accumulation from that we had won the PAFRA World Champion titles. After the "high" of the win wore off on the drive back to California, I had to ask myself "what next"? I spent the whole previous year thinking about that rodeo, and I had just won it. So I set my sights forward, my next focus would be the WSTR and PRCA.
I am the Team Roping Team Leader for WAR. Since I became a member of Warriors And Rodeo, I have seen amazing camaraderie, great accomplishments, and huge steps to help people reach their goals! As I begin to transition out of the military, the thought of being a civilian is very intimidating. Thinking that no one will understand me, no one will be able to relate. But this program changes that. It allows for a community of people who "understand" and can relate to come together, encourage each other, and support each other in a common goal, RODEO! This program brings us together to have a support group not only for rodeo, but for life. It allows us to network with each other for things we need, or things that we try to achieve, or if we just need to simply talk with someone. I will be there at a moments notice for any of the members, and will do anything and everything I can to help this program grow and reach more people!