Marine Dreams

Chris and Valerie Jackson’s story begins with each of them growing up watching classic war movies with their fathers. At an early age, they each knew that they not only wanted to serve their country, but to do so as Marines. This husband and wife team not only ultimately fulfilled those dreams by joining the U.S. Marine Corps, but they both went on to achieve the rank of lieutenant colonel. Chris retired in 2013, with more than 25 years of service, and Valerie is still serving, at 21 years and counting.

When Valerie was in the 8th grade, our U.S. military service academies had just started to open up for women. Even at that early age, she recognized the potential opportunity for women in the military and had always felt the call to be a leader. According to Valerie, “I had been a varsity sports captain, class officer and such, so it seemed natural to me to want to serve.”

As a native New Englander, then Second Lieutenant Valerie Jackson entered the Marine Corps from Boston University’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) Marine Corps Option program in 1994. She was awarded her officer commission on the deck of the USS Constitution — one of the original six frigates first commissioned in 1794 for the newly-established U.S. Navy. Her first deployment sent her to Peru as an embassy liaison officer. Her duties included leading a team to assist Peru in establishing radar detachments along the Amazon River to help interdict drug smugglers attempting to fly contraband into the U.S.

In January of 1996, she was stationed at a new post in Cherry Point, N.C., and had been assigned a sponsor. The sponsor urged her to become a “pen pal” with his friend, Chris, who was serving in Okinawa, Japan, at the time. In a fortunate stroke of serendipity, this story resembles her grandparents’ journey. During World War II, while working in a submarine parts factory in Mass., her grandmother became a pen pal with a soldier fighting in Europe. After being injured during the Battle of Bastogne and returning home in the spring of 1945, her grandparents finally met and married several months later. Following in her grandparents’ footsteps, Valerie finally met her pen pal of six months after he returned stateside in June of 1996. They were engaged 10 months later and married in April of 1998.

In 2006, Valerie worked as a field historian documenting Marine deployments and served as editor of the Marine publication Fortitudine and wrote articles for Leatherneck. She went on to lead units ranging in size from 25 to 375 Marines, with subsequent deployments to Morocco, Thailand and Afghanistan. She was one of four people in 2008 who stood up a new Marine Corps school to assist Marines deploying to Iraq so they could be better prepared to work with the local people, as well as other branches of the U.S. and coalition military. During her final overseas deployment to Afghanistan, as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom, in 2009, she worked with U.S. civilians, foreign militaries and foreign civilian personnel to foster the socioeconomic efforts undertaken by the Marines and British forces. On one occasion, she was teaching at a governance and economic conference for local Afghan merchants so they could learn how to do business with the military. Lt. Col. Valerie Jackson received two separate marriage proposals from two of the young men attending this conference. The fact that she was wearing her wedding ring was not culturally relevant to them, so she adopted a lieutenant to stand in as her brother and escort.

Growing up with a father who was a Marine, Chris believed “the Marines were the best” and knew he, too, would one day serve. “Growing up, I played ‘Major Jackson, the Marine’ and always believed it was a calling for me.”

He was a Marine reservist attending the University of North Texas in December of 1990 when his unit was called up and mobilized for deployment as a part of America’s Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. This Eagle Scout’s 25-year Marine career went from him being a Marine reservist (named 1992 U.S. Marine Corps Reservist of the Year) to full, active duty status. As an infantry officer, he advanced in rank to lieutenant colonel, and he participated in three wars: the invasion of Kuwait in Operation Desert Shield/Storm, the invasion of Iraq in Operation Iraqi Freedom (two tours) and Operation Enduring Freedom (two tours). Additional deployments during his years of service included Japan, Cuba and Panama, as well as three posts in the U.S.

During his second Iraqi Freedom tour, as part of the new “surge” deployment, Chris managed a team of intelligence and training experts at two multi-national divisions in Iraq that assisted with countering improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Their mission was to guide the identification and targeting of IED networks by creating intelligence products and equipment solutions that would assist in defeating insurgent networks, targeting and IED builders. Upon reflection, he saw this as “an assignment with a critical responsibility, in that I knew the degree of our success would have a positive and direct impact on the number of lives saved.”

Chris found himself assigned to Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan’s Helmand province in 2011. He participated in the comprehensive planning and execution of synchronized support of security operations, the execution of regional command lines of operation, as well as in-theater force and material sustainment. As noted in his Legion of Merit award, Lt. Col. Chris Jackson was recognized for “improving the overall stability of an area of operations roughly the size of all five boroughs of New York City and encompassed numerous Afghan villages totaling more than 5,000 residents.” He was also responsible for a $73 million budget, forecast and long-range planning process for the organization.

Among his many achievements and responsibilities, Chris was acknowledged for being personally involved in every aspect of command functioning, having significantly improved the quality of life for his Marines. This included maintaining responsibility for all movements of personnel and equipment, orchestrating the farewells and returns for families and ensuring the execution of all the Warrior Transition training. Active in the promotion of the Family Readiness Program, he understood that the individual Marine is the Corps’ greatest asset. He was honored to lead the charge to ensure that an active and effective support structure was in place for deploying Marines and their families. Chris’ empathy for his fellow Marines was due in part to his own experiences. “I felt bad being deployed yet again to Iraq, away from my family and leaving Val to handle all the challenges of her own military obligations, daily life and the needs of our three young girls, who were all under 10 years of age.”

After many deployments where the Jacksons were apart from each other for long periods of time, they did have a joint deployment in Arkansas (2003-2006) as the state’s Marine Corps liaisons. A small staff of 10, led by Chris, helped serve the varied needs of Marine families.

Today, the Jacksons are very active in Frisco with various military associations and their church. Although Chris has retired, Lt. Col. Valerie Jackson still serves in the Marine Reserve as commander of a communications unit, as well as civil-military operations consultant for Corps Solutions out of Quantico, Va. Additionally, she continues to teach citizenship and English as a second language (ESL) classes through her church. Both of the Jacksons maintain their involvement with the American Legion Post here in Frisco, and Chris serves on the board of directors for the Guardian for Heroes Foundation and is active in the Metroplex Marines.

It is noteworthy to remember that a decision to serve in the military impacts the entire family. In the Jacksons’ case, while they are like many dual-military couples, it is not often that both members achieve the rank of lieutenant colonel … especially in the Marine Corps. Their sacrifices included being apart for periods of time, but their daughters, Maddie (15), Ellie (14) and Lia (10), also had to deal with the brunt of their parents’ service. We always honor our service members, but we should never overlook their families and support them whenever possible.