Paving the way and beating the odds

By LaShawna CustomMarch 30, 2020

Lt. Col. Erica D. Jackson, 32d Army Air and Missile Defense Command plans officer, poses in her office March 20, 2020.
Lt. Col. Erica D. Jackson, 32d Army Air and Missile Defense Command plans officer, poses in her office March 20, 2020. (Photo Credit: Sgt. LaShawna Custom) VIEW ORIGINAL

Strong women come with boundless responsibilities and with 23 years under her belt, she never thought she would be moving on to become the second African American female patriot battalion commander for 1st Battalion, 43d Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.

“I’m proud to be a female Soldier in the military,” said Lt. Col. Erica D. Jackson, the current plans officer for the 32d Army Air and Missile Defense Command. “It shows that we have a voice. I feel empowered. So many times, as women, we are told what we can’t do. I think in the military we are afforded the opportunity to show what we can do.”

As a young lieutenant, Jackson was inspired to advance in rank but knew the journey would not be easy.

“I don’t like it when someone tells me I can’t do something and then I show them that I can,” Jackson noted. “It may not be an easy road but that’s fine. Everything is not meant to be easy but of course, if you work hard and persevere, you’ll get there. What doesn’t kill you, won’t hurt you. I’m not afraid of hard work.”

Originally committing to three years, she would be the first to express that she did not get where she is today by herself. Throughout her career, she had influencers who led the way.

Jackson worked as a medical technician before the Army and joined as an enlisted personnel specialist (75B) at the age of 25 in 1997. She later enrolled in the Army's Officer Candidate School in January of 2000 because her brigade CSM, Command Sgt. Maj. Wilson, acknowledged her potential and told her to take a different path in the Army.

The majority of her family and friends were shocked in her change of profession especially as they knew her to display more characteristics of a stereotypical girl.

“On the other side, they could see the structure of the military suited my personality,” Jackson added. “I like plans, structure and guidelines.”

Jackson expressed the value of meeting suspenses if obstacles or hurdles occur and said her favorite motto is, “If you can’t meet it, beat it.”

“I don’t like late things,” she firmly expressed. “I value everyone’s time. Time is something you can’t get back. It is a precious commodity. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Although Jackson had both of her parents growing up, her mother was more influential throughout her life.

“She has always been a strong figure in my life,” said Jackson. “She has always called me her little black Barbie and always told me there was nothing in life that I couldn’t do.”

Other strong women that demonstrated success in their careers and inspired her throughout her professional military journey are retired Col. Karen Rosser, Col. Warline Richardson, retired Lt. Col. Robin Woody and retired Col. Deborah Hollis-Hubbard who was the first African American female to command a patriot battalion.

“Women leaders’ success shows a sense of pride and aspiration,” Jackson stated. “I see them and think, ‘That’s a goal I can reach too.’ People doubt you and yet you’re seeing others that are performing and being successful in areas that you’re in.”

Another special individual that keeps her grounded when she has little motivation is her husband, Lt. Col. Samuel Alex Jackson III, the deputy commanding officer forward, 108th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.

“My husband being in my ear keeps me going when I have little motivation or want to give up,” Jackson said as she began to get teary-eyed. “He doesn’t necessarily have to be in my ear, but I can hear him saying you got this, you can do this and I am here. My husband is my rock. I lean on him a lot. He is my biggest cheerleader. I love him so much for it.”

The Jacksons were friends for seven years before they started dating. She stated that by being dual military, they understand the stressors and responsibilities placed upon each other, which results in a stronger covenant.

“He’s my sounding board,” she continued. “We reciprocate back and forth. We’re in this together.”

Jackson is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated and she learned that their qualities morph into military leadership traits. Her sorority promotes high education, ethical standards, health wellness and unity, which allows her to give back to the community in both organizations. Their nurturing ability to care shapes her into a powerful leader that takes interest in others.

“As a leader, I can’t give up knowing that there are people that depend on me,” said the compassionate officer. "It’s a lot of pressure when I have someone depending on what I do or fail to do. It’s something I welcome.”

Although Jackson is an air defender, she spent a majority of her career outside of air defense artillery assignments while being challenged mentally, physically and took advantage of opportunities to broaden her scope of knowledge.

“I bring diversity,” she said with a smile. “My experiences have allowed me to bring a point of view that people can’t ever know. I think being able to do these other things out in the joint world, have really opened up my eyes to the military.”

Jackson has planned missions for humanitarian assistance and disaster reliefs while assigned in Honduras. She executed defense support of civil authorities in U.S. Northern Command. At U.S. Africa Command, she was an executive officer and project manager for the African Union Command, Control Communication and Information System.

“Being able to help people in a disaster situation is very fulfilling,” she said passionately. “You see these things and realize how fortunate you truly are.”

Jackson said her journey has been a “magical ride” and she has served in a broad range of assignments at various levels that consisted of: Platoon Leader and Battery Executive Officer, Echo Battery, 5th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery; Assistant Operations Officer, 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade; Commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 5th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery; Assistant Professor of Military Science, South Carolina State University; Evaluations Officer, Army Test and Evaluation Center; Battalion Operations Officer, ARFOR, JTF-Bravo, Honduras; J6 Executive Officer and Project Manager, United States Africa Command; Battalion Executive Officer, 2nd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery; and J35 Civil Support Branch Chief, United States Northern Command.

“We all need help sometimes,” said Jackson. “Nobody knows how to do everything. I’m all for seeking knowledge and guidance on how to do something better. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”

The driven leader also taught at Reserve Officer Training Corps at South Carolina State and to this day, she keeps in contact with some of her students.

“To see my old students get promoted to major, that just warms my heart because I knew them when they were cadets” she said. “I told my students that it would be hard and challenging, but you’ll be prepared throughout the program. After that, people will continue to prepare you for what you’ll have to deal with from thereon.

Now, as Jackson prepares to relocate to 11th ADA BDE, she continues to be hard but fair.

“I’ve shown my competitiveness, my capabilities and I have that potential that’s required,” the empowered leader said. “But I expect the job to be challenging. This is a very challenging time and air defense is high in demand. We’re doing so much as a branch. Everything is going so fast and you have to keep up. We have to make sure we’re trained and ready to do what we do.”

As Jackson provides a purpose, direction and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization while influencing her Soldiers, she outlined her expectations.

“From my personnel, I expect nothing less than what I expect from myself,” said Jackson. “You could never ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do. Always show up with a positive attitude. Be willing to work hard and go that extra mile when needed.”

Jackson continues to be trustworthy and dependable as she builds cohesive teams.

“I will always be straight forward, clear and concise on what needs to be done and what’s expected,” said Jackson. “As long as you have clear guidance and intent, we can make things happen.”

Equally important, the Army’s greatest asset is our people and Jackson said she values families because they are her foundation and her source of structure.

“Everyone in the unit needs to have a balance between work, personal and family life,” she said compassionately. “I will always go back to structure.”

Jackson said she has seen people grow as a result of the military in different organizations.

“To the women wanting to join the military, just do it,” Jackson concluded. “If it’s something that you aspire to do, give it a try. It’s definitely achievable. It has opened my eyes to a lot of things.”

The leader with an impactful voice plans to serve in the Army as long as they will allow her to, as long as her body can take it and as long as she can make a difference.

So, for those who are inspired and have a dream, go for it and "just do it” because women can do everything!

(By Sgt. La’Shawna Custom, 32d AAMDC Public Affairs NCO)