CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
A young girl climbs a tree in the countryside of the Clarendon, Jamaica. She plucks a ripe mango from the branch, and climbs back down. Leading a pack of brothers, sisters and cousins, she finds a nice shaded area to hide from the scorching sun. The children talk and laugh as they feast on the fruits of their labor. Once the children have their fill, the boys head off to play cricket while the young girls watch, enjoying a summer day in Jamaica, 1990.
That young girl was Master Sgt. Teisha Jackson, 27th Special Operations Wing Staff Agency first sergeant, who spent the first 18 years of her life in Jamaica. Once she left home in November of 1998, she became the first in her family to join a military.
“My father was the first to go to America because there were better opportunities there,” Jackson said. “We wanted that ‘American Dream.’ He did all the proper paperwork, and brought us out to New Jersey. I started going to a community college, but was hard because I didn’t have a job and my father was paying for it. I knew I wasn’t gonna do it for long because I just couldn’t afford it.”
As Jackson explained her hardships, she talked about an opportunity that came to her.
“One day, I received a brochure in the mail from the Air Force,” Jackson said. “Which, to be honest, I had no idea what it was because we don’t have any military background in our family. I was reading about the pay, benefits, college, all the good stuff and I thought to myself, ‘I could do this.’ Then I had my stepmom take me to the recruiting office and that’s where it all started.”
Jackson began her Air Force career as a personnel specialist at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, in August of 2000.
“When I joined the Air Force, I was, to be honest, clueless,” Jackson said. “I knew nothing about the military, but I learned with proper leadership and guidance. I had a great supervisor and she took me under her wing and turned me into the person I am today.”
While she lived in Jamaica, Jackson’s home was where all her extended family lived. She explained how important family was to her, and how she managed to find a new family in the Air Force.
“It was a bit challenging, since I didn’t understand things like the American culture,” Jackson said. “Everything was just so foreign, and I was foreign too. But the people that surrounded me took me in as family. I thank God there were good people around me who took me in and treated me as family and taught me how to do the job. They helped me not only professionally, but personally.”
Working in the personnel career field meant Jackson spoke to a wide variety of people, and first sergeants were ever-present throughout her career.
“When I joined, my original first sergeant sat me down and asked me, ‘Do you know what a first sergeant is?’” Jackson said. “I had no idea what he was talking about at the time, so he told me all the rules and responsibilities associated in his role. It was the start to learning my current job.”
Jackson explained she fully began to grasp throughout the years not only what a first sergeant does, but how she would play a role in the big picture of the Air Force.
“I planned to come in, get the benefits and leave after six years,” Jackson said. “But with the leaders who surrounded me, they showed me it’s not about me, that I’m part of something bigger, and as of 18 years later, I’m still here.”
Jackson aims to help her Airmen just like her original first sergeant helped her.
“In this job, there’s good and bad, but I don’t dwell on the bad, I focus on the good,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t matter how little it is, whether it’s just a laugh or a smile, those moments feel good to me. My first sergeant helped me out during a really difficult time for me, and without him I don’t know where I would be. So I want to help people so they can feel safe and happy. With a first sergeant guiding them, it can help a lot.”
Jackson not only sees herself in the young Airmen around her, but she sees them as family too.
“I have a 15-year-old daughter and I want the best for her,” Jackson said. “Because I’m older now, the younger Airmen remind me of my baby, so I want the best for all of them too. Sometimes you just need to have a casual conversation with a ‘shirt’ or chaplain and it can be a huge help.”
While Jackson tries to keep her daughter included in her homegrown culture by making traditional meals, such as the scrambled-egg-like ackee and saltfish, and speaking her native language of Patois, she also uses her background to help the Airmen around her.
“I think I’m able to engage with people that aren’t from America a lot easier,” Jackson said. “I have a real thick accent, so most people already have a hard time understanding me. I know it can be hard to learn stuff like a new language, so I make sure to take my time when speaking to an Airman from a different country. Maybe try to help them finish their sentences. I’ve met several people from other countries such as the Philippines, China and some even from Africa. There’s a lot of culture right here, we just have to go out and get in touch with our people.”
Jackson explains her plans once she retires from the Air Force.
“My goal is to retire completely debt-free,” Jackson said. “Then, I’m going to travel the world. I want to go to places like Australia, all over Europe, and China. Like a big world cruise.”
While Jackson is from another country, she doesn’t let it define her. She is a member of the U.S. Air Force, one who helps others through the challenges of life and treats her Airmen like family.
“Remember, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. It’s the person that you are, so you should always strive to improve yourself.”