CAMP ZAMA, Japan – Sgt. Jennifer Jackson still smiles when she talks about the day she became a godmother two years ago.
After helping a pregnant Soldier, who had arrived alone to Japan, adjust to her new life, Jackson was surprised when the Soldier asked her to be in the delivery room to witness the birth of her child.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but that moment ended up changing my life,” said Jackson, the noncommissioned officer in charge of health physics at Public Health Command-Pacific. “That was such a beautiful moment in my life and definitely one I will treasure forever.”
Helpfulness is a quality that Jackson, who grew up just outside of Atlanta in Stone Mountain, Georgia, had ingrained in her from a young age. Her mother and father, a former infantryman who today playfully yells cadence whenever Jackson walks with him, taught her as a child to be caring, responsible and to earn things with hard work, she said.
In her current role, Jackson, 30, ensures medical equipment is safe across the Pacific region from hazardous amounts of radiation through training and testing. She volunteers as the president of the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers, or BOSS, program at Camp Zama. She also trained to be a victim advocate for the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program.
“I thrive on giving to others rather than receiving,” Jackson said. “That’s just who I am to my core. I think that our lives here are supposed to be a selfless journey, and that is what I dedicate myself to each and every day – selflessness and service.”
As a woman of color, Jackson aspires to be a role model for her godchild, Zayah, and other young girls like her.
Jackson recalled recently shopping for a princess doll to give Zayah when she noticed none of them were African-American. It reminded her of the importance of diversity in everything.
“I want her to be able to see herself reflected in her dolls or anything,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t always have to be cookie-cutter. I want her to have self-love and self-worth.
“That’s kind of how I see myself, being that example for a little girl of color who looks like me, who wants to be a Soldier,” she added. “She wants to be strong and she wants to be wonderful, smart and go out there and fight the good fight and help people. That’s why I do this.”
In 2020, the Army launched a new initiative called Project Inclusion, which aims to improve diversity, equity and inclusion across the force while building cohesive teams.
As part of it, the Army has encouraged candid conversations between leadership and their Soldiers, as well as eliminated official photos from promotion boards and redacted race, ethnicity and gender data from officer and enlisted record briefs.
“It definitely provides a better chance for people like me, people of color, to be promoted, thrive and do well in the Army,” she said about the initiative, which is intended to place all Soldiers on a level playing field.
While Jackson has seen some poor leadership styles in her career, she said she has had other leaders who helped build her up to the NCO she is now.
“Everywhere there has been somebody who pushed me or saw something great in me and they wanted to assist me,” she said. “I’ve been grateful to always have people there in my corner.”
Jackson hopes to repay that kindness through her job and the additional duties she takes on.
In the BOSS program, for instance, she has helped organize events for almost two years as the president. She said she understands the isolation of living overseas and away from family, and liked how the program gave her a sense of belonging.
Even as the pandemic triggered restrictions and closures, Jackson made the effort to hold events, when it was possible, with safety measures so single Soldiers could socialize.
“It’s kind of like home, but minus that one important thing – family,” she said of the program. “But we’re all brothers and sisters in arms, and we’re here to support each other through it all.”
Not only does the program enhance the morale and welfare of single Soldiers, it can also increase retention and sustain combat readiness, said Command Sgt. Maj. Justin Turner, the senior enlisted leader for U.S. Army Garrison Japan.
He credited Jackson for directly impacting the overall readiness of the post.
“The amount of effort and energy Sgt. Jackson has dedicated to the BOSS program has been truly remarkable,” Turner said. “Even during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she initiated creative ideas to keep Soldiers engaged all while adhering to some strict and socially limiting health protection guidance.”
Jackson believes that, in whatever she does, she gives it her all.
While stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, she was tasked to check IDs as a gate guard. She took on the detail with optimism, rendered sharp salutes and displayed an infectious smile to those entering the post.
Her positive attitude resulted in several compliments from motorists, which led both the garrison commander and commanding general to publicly acknowledge her work and present her with achievement coins, she said.
“No matter what I do, I want to do it well. Even if I was cleaning toilets, I would want to have the most spotless toilets ever,” she said, laughing.
Jackson draws much of her motivation from her faith. As a Baptist, she attends church every Sunday and sings in the choir. And being from the South, she loves to show off her hospitality through her cooking.
She calls her kitchen “the lab” since she’s always experimenting with dishes. But her specialty is soul food, a reminder of the family meals she had back home.
“I’m Southern to the bone,” she said. “I want to share that Southern hospitality. Come over to my house, [I’ll ask you,] ‘would you like something to eat or drink?’”
Whether through filling someone’s stomach or by lending a hand, Jackson is there to help.
“I just try to be a good person and treat people how I would want to be treated,” she said.