By Capt. Michelle Lunato, 359th Signal BrigadeMarch 8, 2011
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - No one asks for stress and hard times in their life, but for one soldier, he is deeply thankful for the darkest moments of his life. Without those bleak, hopeless days, he would not be on the path he is today.
About five years ago, Detroit, Mich., native Army Spc. Kendall Jackson, a chaplain's assistant with the 86th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, said he was struggling with just about everything. He was in and out of jobs and health, fighting with his wife, having bad dreams and on the edge of a breakdown until he prayed to be cursed - "cursed with blessings."
The blessings came, but Jackson didn't quite recognize them at first, he said. After Hurricane Ike, Jackson was laid off and out of work yet again. Desperate, Jackson said he started reading his Bible, looking for answers, but everything he read talked about fighting in the Army.
While he was out looking for work "with everyone else," a stranger approached him, touched his shoulder, and said, "Do what God has told you to do." Jackson shook off this odd encounter. Then, after a loud, verbal fight with his wife, which was interrupted by investigating police, Jackson said the officer talked to him about the Army. The Army was coming at me from everywhere, said Jackson. "It was like He closed doors to squeeze me into this direction. I started to feel like I didn't have to go out and find the answer; it kept coming to me."
Even at the recruiter's office, Jackson felt like he was pointed to a direction he had not considered. The recruiter and I discussed a lot of jobs with bonuses, and then he mentioned the chaplain's assistant job since I had mentioned God, said Jackson. It didn't offer a bonus, but, according to the recruiter, it had not been open for a couple of years, he said. "I kept thinking that I can't serve God AND money, so I chose the chaplain's assistant job."
However, during his first year on duty, Jackson still wasn't sure he had made the right decision. "I kept thinking...I can't believe I am in the Army. I don't even like weapons." And life was still difficult for him, his wife and their four children, who were about to be evicted out of their apartment. Before that happened though, the Army was his answer again, said Jackson. "The next thing I knew, I am getting blessed with all this stuff." His unit and other military people heard about his crisis and helped his family with money, furniture and a vehicle. "They practically furnished my entire house. I couldn't believe this was happening. No one gives people furniture and trucks, except Oprah," laughed Jackson.
Now after only two years in the Army, the 31-year-old Fort Huachuca, Ariz., resident is serving on his first deployment in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and giving inspiration to other soldiers. We all get overwhelmed by our problems at times, so I try to help others realize that there is hope, said Jackson. "I tell them to not get blinded by their struggles. It is only a season, and it will pass." Of course, this is all easier said than done, but since Jackson has lived hard times, he said it allows him to speak with more conviction, letting other soldiers know they can survive too. "Every experience, whether good or bad, builds character. And those experiences will either make you better or bitter."
Nevertheless, all this experience overcoming adversity did not make leaving his family to come to heavily-rocketed combat zone any less easy. But after a few months in country, Jackson said he realized there was not much point to worrying. "I don't fear as much anymore, because I don't feel like the Lord has brought me this far just to take me out in the desert. I feel like I am here to be a rock and foundation to other soldiers." And regardless of what your job and experiences are, you just have to have faith sometimes, said Jackson. "We can be trained and ready, but how much can you fight against a mortar'"
Through all his experiences and military service, Jackson said there is still a lot to learn. "Wisdom doesn't come with age. It comes from doing what is right." He says this not only because of his history, but also because he sees a lot of connection between the Army values and the Old Testament. "Everybody can preach the values, but not everybody can live them."
By trying to learn and live those values, Jackson said he has learned a lot about leadership. "Everything is a transition. Everyone is a follower and a leader, just at different times."
By following God's signs to join the Army, Jackson feels he is leading his family by serving time away from them. "It's a sacrifice of time, because you are away from your loved ones and what you are used to. But, outside of that, it is NOT a sacrifice. We volunteered to serve. So, it is more like an offering."
And through his gift of time and service, Jackson thinks the path that brought him to a combat zone will be the same path that gives him serenity. "A lot of people see the Army as a door to war, but for me, it was a door to peace."