By Staff Sgt. James Bunn
It’s often said that the military becomes a family to those who serve. Sitting with a Military and Family Life Counselor like Janet Escobedo, that adage rings true. Looking at Escobedo’s grandmotherly exterior, it's hard to believe she was a trailblazer who dominated during the Air Force survival, evasion, resistance, and escape course, and ran ultra-marathons. She belies the energy of a woman half her age.
“I don’t know, I just never thought to slow down!” Escobedo exclaimed when asked about her drive and passion for serving the military, civilians, and family members of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe.
Escobedo came to Stuttgart, Germany to serve as the MFLC (pronounced em-fleck) for the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in 2023, bringing her effervescent spirit and can-do attitude to the unit. After her stint with 1-10, she moved across town to support the SOCEUR headquarters team.
She recounted the feeling of stress and excitement during her first few visits to SOCEUR, saying she could feel the tension but also the passion everyone had for their jobs.
During her time with SOCEUR, Escobedo was known for having sweet treats to brighten the day of those she came across, and always making time for those who needed her.
“She gave the best hugs,” said Army Master Sgt. Kelly Simon adding, “She was always a ball of energy, and she would leave folks feeling better than before she stopped by.”
Among her many achievements, Escobedo was the first woman to run the 20.5 mile stretch of the Grand Canyon, from the North Kaibab trail to the South Rim.
“We ran a 50-mile ultra marathon to get into condition for that event,” Escobedo said nonchalantly, as if it’s just another day.
Accomplishing the extraordinary is ordinary for Escobedo. In another instance, when she completed SERE school, two instructors presented her with a leather belt buckle from the People’s Democratic Republic of Vietnam as a symbol of her perseverance, fortitude, and resilience. Escobedo recognized the significance of the honor; the belt buckle had only been given three times in 11 years.
Those weren’t her only firsts. Escobedo was part of the first all-female Cadet Corps at Virginia Tech in 1973, where she threw discus and javelin for the university track and field team, hinting at her life-long love of sport. She commissioned in the Air Force as an intelligence officer, and officially began her first career at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, then on to Germany where her passion and skill, both for the military and sports, led her to a spot on the U.S. team in the Continental Sports Conference in Berlin, where she won Gold in track and field.
“We competed and stayed in the Berlin Olympic Stadium in 1982,” said Escobedo. “It was a thrill seeing my name on the big Olympic scoreboard.”
During her assignment in Germany, Escobedo was instrumental in getting an intelligence system known as the Battlefield information and Exploitation System (BICES), operational during Desert Storm. She helped negotiate many agreements with partner nations to get the system online.
“Probably the most important legacy in my intelligence career is that I helped get the BICES program operational,” she said.
In 1995, Escobedo took command of a squadron at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. It was here she found her calling as a counselor.
“One day I was putting on my uniform and while adjusting my name tag, I literally heard a voice say, ‘I want you to become a counselor,’” Escobedo recalled.
She said her faith was strong, even if she had never considered this as a career path after the Air Force.
“I was a techie through and through, developing sophisticated intelligence architectures for Desert Storm,” she explained, though she recounted numerous times she had counseled subordinates throughout her military career.
Ever one to persevere, Escobedo completed her schooling and began working with at-risk youth in New Mexico. In 2013 she began working as an MFLC with the New Mexico National Guard. Eventually, she made her way to Kenya and worked with special operations units.
“I did a tour in Djibouti and Manda Bay, Kenya, and then became an embedded MFLC with the 352nd Special Operations Wing,” she explained. The 352nd is the air component subordinate to SOCEUR.
Tragedy struck the ever-positive Escobedo in 2022 when her husband of 43 years passed away. She realized at that moment she had a decision to make.
“After that terrible tragedy I realized I had a choice; I could drown myself in self-pity, or I could go on living my life to the fullest,” said Escobedo. “I chose the latter, realizing that the MFLC program and serving others has always brought me joy, I volunteered to do a year-long overseas assignment.”
That’s when she found herself back in the special operations community where she found that losing her husband broadened her perspective and aided her because she worked with many grieving service members in similar situations.
She shared her method to facing challenges, explaining that she approaches them with hope, love, and a positive attitude.
“She was an absolute delight whenever she walked into a room, she was a real asset and she will be surely missed,” said Lt. Col. Sean Raleigh, the SOCEUR personnel director.
"Escobedo will forever be part of the SOCEUR family."
“When your military career is finished, you’re never going to say ‘gee, I wish I had spent more time in the office on my son’s birthday,’” said Escobedo. “When your military career is finished, it’s finished, but your family is forever.”