In The Beginning
As the oldest of four kids, and second oldest of twenty grandchildren, I’ve had my share of opportunities in leading others. Accountability rested on my shoulders. My elders directed their questions to me if we did not complete our chores. Oftentimes those questions turned to physical and emotional abuse at the hands of my mother and stepfather. Therefore, we accomplished tasks to the best of everyone's abilities and on time.
During middle and high school, I served as a captain or co-captain of most of my sports teams. Not because I was the best player (I rarely was), but because my coaches and teammates trusted me to do what was in the best interest of the teams: leading by example by arriving on time (early most days), working hard, and encouraging others. Throughout the years, my leadership responsibilities have increased as my family grows and ages.
The Best Decision Ever Made
On 26 October 1999, I accepted the oath of enlistment to serve in the United States Air Force. Leadership and follower-ship continued and were paramount during my military experience.
"One must learn to follow before graduating to leadership."
I admit this was a challenge in my early years since I wasn't accustomed to following at the magnitude of military service. However, once I understood and accepted my role, we made magic! Many of my leadership experiences afforded me the opportunity to learn from and grow with some of the world's best and brightest leaders, which led to multiple leadership and meritorious service awards throughout my career: in particular, Air Traffic Control Supervisor of the Year.
Iraq Was My Tipping Point
The moment I stepped off the C-130 Hercules on 30 Dec 2009, I vowed never to experience war again! I was 6,765 miles from home, blistering hot, afraid, and I didn't know anyone. Furthermore I thought, "Why am I really here? Was I created to die in modern day Babylon?"
It's a good thing I'm comfortable with meeting new people. I don't connect with everyone, and this is natural for us all. However, if not for the relationships I built in Iraq, I wouldn't have made it. My crew and I kept each other at an elite performance level. We studied policies and procedures, ate dinner, and exercised together. I even broke my toe during the playoffs of a 3-on-3 basketball tournament. I wore the walking boot for two days and played in the championship. What can I say, my team needed me. (And yes, we won!)
The Great Shift
On 28 June 2010, I landed In Baltimore, MD. Aside from the births of my son and daughter, this was the greatest day of my life! However, I wanted more. My perspective had shifted. I was convinced there was a reason I lived to return home intact physically, however, there was a war taking place in my mind. I was over ten years on active duty. Walking away from safety and security wasn't an option, so I got laser focused on delivering tremendous value to my subordinates and leaders, striving to be the best Airman possible, until I experienced a conflict.
The Infamous Conflict
My relationships and behaviors didn't mirror my personal and professional aspirations. I associated with characters inconducive to living in abundance. These characters included family members and individuals I once considered “friends.” We abused alcohol, recreational drugs, and promiscuity. Unfortunately, these relationships and behaviors led to the demise of my military career, and I take full responsibility for my role in that debacle.
I Was Court-Martialed
Individuals in positions of authority now acknowledge I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression. However, at the time, my leadership attacked my essence, said I had character issues, labeled me arrogant and many other things in public, and only God knows what in private.
I understood the odds I was facing: A personality conflict with those afforded privilege by virtue of societal constructs and position? I was thinking “No one will trust me over a couple of Colonels and a Command Chief Master Sergeant in a high-profile role." Therefore, I immediately began taking steps to preserve my name and stellar record. I had recently earned the rank of Master Sergeant at 13 years when the Air Force average was 16.5 years.
Although I was aware of the situation I was in, I was unaware of what was in store. As I awaited man’s verdict, I did what we all do during times of desperation: I called on God to save me! I never lost faith in my Source during the experience. However, I was facing up to 10 years in prison for crimes I know I didn't commit. Also, I knew there was only one Source robust enough to maintain my physical freedom.
As I paced up and down the sidewalk, I started crying out with every ounce of emotion I had remaining in the tank. I asked for forgiveness and understanding, questioning, “Why would the All-mighty do this to me?” Silly me and my small mortal way of thinking; I didn't see the bigger picture. Then out of desperation, the magic words came out.
During my prayers, I made a promise. I promised to tell the world about God if I didn't go to jail. At the time, I had zero understanding of the power of words. Of course I knew not to speak negative things into existence; however, this was different. I also didn't understand that the Universe grants wishes backed by emotional energy forces.
Making this promise activated my God and I was found not guilty on two of three charges. The charges were “Leaving without permission (Guilty). Failure to obey a lawful order (Not Guilty), and Failure to report to duty (Not Guilty).”
I paid the penalty for the guilty charge, and that was it. I wouldn’t step foot inside a jail. Maybe you’re saying “Amen. God is good!” Heck, so was I when this experience was over. I had given a valiant effort against the U.S. government and won. But it wasn't over. Because in less than two months, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced workforce cuts. And the criteria for cuts included individuals with quality indicators on their record. This decision meant my time on Active Duty (AD) was over. I was devastated! I thought serving in the military was my purpose. I received an honorable discharge fifteen years sooner than planned and five years shy of retirement eligibility.
Continuously Serving A Great Cause
Today, I'm still pursuing my passion. I continue to empower people to become their greatest version. Through books, speaking, and coaching I inspire individuals and organizations to maximize their potential and make improvements in their lives and businesses. As a life and business strategist the past three years, I’ve added multiple streams of income and regained peace in my mind. I’ve also established and built relationships with mentors, coaches, and new friends, each of whom has helped me experience quantum leaps. I have relationships conducive for living a life of abundance.
There was a time during my transition when I thought life wasn't worth living. However, I now know God had to extract me from one mission to prepare me for the next. Maybe the end of my military experience wasn’t a debacle after all. And maybe, during your next unexpected extraction, instead of panicking, you should trust that the Universe has a greater plan in store.
Air Force Veteran | Life & Business Strategist | Speaker | Author. Jay is passionate about increasing the capacity of individuals and organizations to Think, Be, and Do things ‘extraordinarily’. Jay has a track record of helping individuals and organizations achieve the success they desire both personally and professionally. You can find Jay Jackson on Instagram and Twitter @MrJay_Jackson and at his website, www.mrjayjackson.com.