CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait — Col. Fenicia L. Jackson defines resilience as having the mental, physical, emotional, and behavioral ability to face and cope with adversity, and to recover, learn, and grow from setbacks.
The chief of staff, 1st Theater Sustainment Command operational command post, shared her personal experiences on bouncing back throughout her more than 20 years of service in the Army during the keynote address for Sneakers and Pearls, an event hosted by Area Support Group - Kuwait here, Mar. 11.
Sneakers and Pearls featured a panel of senior leaders who shared their personal definitions of resilience, and participated in a question-and-answer session with Soldiers.
Panelists included Col. Charles Lockwood, commander, ASG-KU; Lt. Col. Ebonee Thomas, commander, 4th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Division; Dr. Rania Azmi, founder, Alexandrite Decisions, and president, Fadia Survive and Thrive Cancer Association; Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Lund, senior enlisted advisor, Base Support Battalion - Kuwait; Sgt. Maj. Wayne Barker, operations sergeant major, Base Support Battalion - Kuwait; Maj. Dezarai Moulton, 11th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade; and Capt. Melvin Langston, Camp Buehring chaplain.
Lt. Col. Nadia Moss, commander, Base Support Battalion - Kuwait, said the concept for the event was sparked by National Wear Your Pearls Day. Founded by Columbia, South Carolina, native DeAnna Bookert, the day is meant to encourage conversations on overcoming mental illnesses.
Moss said pearls and sneakers are a good metaphor for Soldier resilience.
“Just as a grain of sand inside an oyster causes the formation of a precious gem—a pearl—this is the ideal time to assess yourself, a resilient, resourceful and beautiful human being,” the lieutenant colonel said. “Pearls are a comparison to our lives; pearls symbolize beauty and strength, qualities that we as Soldiers possess.
“Sneakers promote and enable lifestyle connections—they are versatile and are built to be sustainable, just like we are, Soldiers and leaders,” Moss continued. “We are versatile, sustainable and resilient.”
Moss said every Soldier has the personal responsibility to thrive in their professional and personal lives, and to look out for the well-being of others.
Jackson’s speech echoed that sentiment, as she discussed the necessity of developing a healthy work-life balance and cultivating resilience through helping others.
“You have to determine how you balance your personal life and your military duties from day to day, and being mentally, spiritually, and physically fit,” the colonel said. “When those three things are out of whack for me, I can’t function that well.
“And then there’s my family, everything that I do is for my family and for my Army family,” Jackson continued. “I try to have an equal balance on how much of me I give to my Army family, and how much I give to my own family.”
The chief of staff told the audience that she lost her brother on Mar. 25, 2020, and it was a loss that left her in a state of emotional unavailability, and of spiritual and physical defeat.
“I didn’t know how to cope,” Jackson said. “I didn’t tell anyone, I just suffered in silence.
“Every day I had to muster up the energy to do what I used to love to do, which was to put on this uniform and go to work,” the colonel continued. “I was upset at the Army because I felt that the Army kept me away from my family, and I felt like if I wasn’t in the Army I would have spent more time with my family.”
Shortly after the death of her brother, the colonel received an Army fellowship to attend school for a year, followed by the assignment to 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Within 30 days of her permanent change of station, Jackson deployed with the unit to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
When she arrived in theater, Jackson was then informed that her next assignment—a brigade-level command—had been pushed up by six months and that she would have to leave Kuwait early to assume that duty.
Jackson said the grief, compounded by the frustrations of military service piling up all at once, sent her on a downward spiral.
“I was really carrying a heavy load, and being the person that I am, I asked myself as a leader, how do I mask my frustrations, how do I mask my anger, how do I mask my disappointment, my depression, my loneliness, my pain,” Jackson said. “We as leaders, we don’t want anyone to think that we’re weak.
“Well I stand in front of you today to tell you that even strong leaders have weak moments,” the colonel continued. “Through practice and conscious effort, resiliency can be built even in the toughest of times—I truly do believe that resiliency thrives because of personal readiness and your overall mental well-being.”
Jackson said over the course of the deployment, which began in August of 2021, she has cultivated her resilience—and has bounced back stronger—by focusing on her spiritual fitness, adopting an attitude of gratitude, and by lending an ear to those in need.
“Through this job I’ve encountered countless people that are suffering in silence,” the colonel said. “By helping others, it has allowed me to heal.
“It’s amazing what people are willing to share with you if you just listen to what they have to say,” Jackson continued. “Be that person who listens.”