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June 30, 2011

Carmel Valley

Soldier Stories: ‘The Tip of the Spear’ BY JEANNE MCKINNEY Contributor There are over 1.4 million active U.S. military personnel paying a huge price while we freedom-loving citizens benefit from America’s unlimited opportunities. Men and women from all walks of life, ethnicities and cultures do many jobs and carry the enormous weight to keep America secure and ensure peace. This column will present soldier stories to provide readers insight into the lives of these dedicated, talented, and brave warriors and heroes who watch our backs. Here is our first story: Earning his wings in 2007, U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Justin L. Jackson, a Houston, Texas, native based at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, has flown the AH-1W Super Cobra in three combat deployments — one in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. This twin-engine attack helicopter is the backbone of the U.S. Marine Corps Helicopter fleet. From the outset, Jackson says, “It takes a unique mindset” to go to battle. Most of us will never have to fight an elusive and ruthless enemy night to day for months on end, pushing the body, keeping the mind focused and skills sharp despite carnage and destruc-

Twin-engine attack helicopter PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE U.S. MARINE CORPS

tion all around. “Taking the oath and wanting to serve your country means potentially giving your life in her defense.” Success in combat does not come without a cost laments Jackson – who has lost good friends weeks before they were set to go home. “Whether they came from our unit or the ones we supported, we all feel it and mourn in our own ways – that’s the Marine mentality. You never get used to it, nor should we ever. We remember them for the stories, the good times and what they stood for. But they would also want us to show up for work the next day and provide the same quality support as before, taking the fight to the enemy and accomplish the mission.” He remembers, with respect, his step-grandfather, a World War II veteran, and NFL player Pat Tillman, who “placed servitude and sacrifice

above fame and greed.” Tillman, who took the oath and gave his life, helps him stay grounded. Jackson’s military career started at the United States Naval Academy. “Being a young somewhat jaded midshipman, Sept. 11 had a profound effect on me. Up until that point, I was sure I wanted nothing to do with the Marines.” In the years that followed, many people Jackson admired opted to join. He said he wanted to be part of it – part of the tip of the spear. Becoming a member of “the few, the proud” was the best way to do that. Jackson’s greatest reward is the bond he forms with the Marines he flies for every day — especially in combat. He offers, “No other service trains like we do…At some point, regardless of our military occupational specialty (MOS), we take our issued rifle, gear, lace up our boots and slug through months of infan-

try training. This shared appreciation for the ‘grunt’ — the customer they will one day support — is forever seared into our minds. ” Appreciation for support was revealed to Jackson in Kyrgyzstan while conversing with a forward air controller (FAC) from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (2/8). Jackson and his squadron had a very special relationship with that unit during Operation River Liberty. During the 2009 surge in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan, “they arguably worked the most challenging slice of Afghan soil” — starting with the biggest heli-borne insert since the Vietnam War. “Prior to River Liberty, there was very little sustained coalition presence in many parts of Southern Helmand. But one early July morning that all changed. The Taliban went to sleep that night and literally awoke to find 4,000 Marines in their backyard.” “What 2/8 accomplished that summer was remarkable”, says Jackson. “We knew we would be busy and that the theater would become more kinetic…but thankfully we were well-trained and ready. Our mission was to identify the enemy and prevent him from gaining any momen-

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Justin L. Jackson tum,” and as pilots of attack helicopters “to support and protect our own.” The words of a young squad leader forever remind him of that. “He asked me if I was from ‘Repent’ (our theater call sign). When I said I was, he shook my hand and said”, “Sir, you guys really saved us more times than I will ever admit to my mother…thankyou.” Jackson was never more proud to be a Marine than at that very moment. When he returned for his second deployment to Afghanistan in 2010, the areas that were once most kinetic became some of the best success stories in Afghanistan. He reports, “Marines in those parts worried less about pursuing the enemy and more about making sure the children made it to school

on time.” On being an American, Jackson reflects, “While no doubt we have suffered our setbacks along the way, the United States has done so much good for mankind… having an intimate knowledge of our history, our trials and tribulations is crucial for every American to understand and appreciate.” Since being commissioned an officer in the United States Marine Corps from the Naval Academy in 2004, Jackson has been listening for those infantry Marines’ voices on the radio, bearing witness to the value of his work. I feel many Americans echo his sentiments; “I still get chills hearing our national Anthem and watching Old Glory flap freely in the wind. I feel so very blessed and humble to be an American.” Jackson is looking forward to a fourth deployment (third to Afghanistan). His passion for what he does is clear: he tells me his entire existence is to support that young Marine, quite often only months removed from a high school prom. I’m convinced our backs are secure with this flying warrior, who, with many others have stepped up to be “the tip of the spear.”

6-30-2011 Carmel Valley News  

The Cathedral Catholic and Torrey Pines High varsity football teams faced off in the Mission Hills Bear Down summer passing league tournamen...

6-30-2011 Carmel Valley News  

The Cathedral Catholic and Torrey Pines High varsity football teams faced off in the Mission Hills Bear Down summer passing league tournamen...