In this recurring special feature, Nonahood News recognizes and honors those everyday heroes who have served or are currently serving our country and making a difference in our community. Those who reside in the Lake Nona and surrounding area are our Nona Heroes.
This month, Nonahood News features Lake Nona resident and Army National Guard Specialist Robert BJ Jackson. This hero had served for almost five years. He enlisted in the Iowa National Guard five months out of high school.
“Honestly, I would love to say I joined because of selfless service or I wanted to change the world for the better or even for the college benefits. However, my reasons for joining were merely based on the fact that a group of friends said I couldn’t do it. I set out to prove them wrong. And I did just that. When I joined, I was a scrawny kid weighing 125 pounds, five feet 10 inches, and seven months later after training, I was 190 pounds [at] six feet two inches.”
The specialist explained the backstory behind why he chose the Army National Guard over any other military branch. “One of my grandfathers was in the Navy, so I decided to talk to a Navy recruiter first. The moment he said six months at sea, six months on land, I walked over to the Army recruiter. One of my friends and roommates I lived with was already in the Iowa National Guard in a combat MP unit, so I spoke to his recruiter after that. He made serving my community and state sound rewarding and used national disasters such as flooding, etc., as an example.”
Before his deployment, Jackson was based out of Camp Dodge in Johnston, Iowa. “I served as a guardsman until being brought on to full-time guard. Then I would be brought onto active army orders. I was deployed to Iraq as part of an advanced team to set up base on Baghdad International Airport (BIAP).”
Jackson was able to achieve his specialist promotion twice and was promoted quickly. He was looking forward to any and every challenge of making sergeant, however his time serving was cut short due to an injury. Some of his greatest memories were created while at basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia. “In basic, you’re pushed to your limits mentally, physically, emotionally and then expected to push past your perceived limits. You learn a lot about yourself and your ability. This has helped me throughout my personal and professional life. Going through the deployment in 2003 was a true learning experience as well. Imagine going to a war zone as an 18- to 22-year-old, leaving behind what you believe life is: your family, friends and home. In a combat zone, you’re not exactly going to the mall shopping to buy new shoes. You now have to rely on the man or woman next to you. Your background, personal beliefs and views may differ from the guy or gal next to you, but you work as a team to complete the mission at hand. Camaraderie and brotherhood/sisterhood become life. You start to learn about what life means to you and what it’s worth and just how blessed we are here in the United States.”
What is this hero up to nowadays in the Nonahood? Robert BJ Jackson fills his days by giving back to the community and keeping involved in local organizations. “Over the past 14 years, I have been in international, national and local nonprofit development/management as well as public speaking. This has provided me with amazing opportunities over the years to continue serving, just in a different capacity.
“Since moving to Lake Nona, I have been able to take part in some amazing organizations such as Lake Nona Youth Sports (Lake Nona Jr. Lions) through my children and as a football coach. I sit on the board of directors for Fairways for Warriors. I have taken part in fostering/training service dogs through Pawsitive Action Foundation. I am the international co-chair for God Flag & Country oratory competition.”
“Most recently, I joined South Orlando Rowing Association [SORA Crew] as an adaptive rower. With the help of local Paralympic rower and senior national adaptive team rower and Tokyo Olympic hopeful Mike Varro and coach Terry Davison [father of senior national team and Tokyo Olympic hopeful Ben Davison], we are training an all-veteran crew for indoor and outdoor rowing events. Our first major event will be the San Diego Crew Classic in March. Our goal is to qualify local veterans to represent America in the indoor rowing at the Invictus games in Sydney, Australia, [in] October of 2018.”
For more information about Lake Nona Youth Sports, you can visit here: http://nonahood.to/lnys.
For more information about SORA, visit here: http://www.soracrew.com.
If you would like to nominate someone for our next Nona Heroes feature, please complete the form here: http://nonahood.to/nonaheroes.