"I put my pants on one leg at a time, just like you," Jackson told Youth Challenge Program cadets at Camp Minden last Wednesday night. "Only I'm a little slower because I'm a little fat."
Jackson went from being in a gang ("I was a Blood. I did that type of foolishness," he told the cadets) to getting ready to leave Shreveport to serve as an aid to an Army General. His story wasn't extraordinary, and that's why it may have hit home with the YCP cadets. It speaks to what they can accomplish with their own lives if they just try.
"I was a bad kid," he said. "I had a choice, just like you. You either do something different or you do something easy. Initially, I chose to do something easy. After I got my aunt's house shot up for the last time I said 'you know what? It's not worth it. This lady was nice to me. She doesn't deserve this.' So I decided to do something different."
Jackson attended the University of Southeast Louisiana where he played football and had a chance to go to the NFL, but an incident while playing basketball shattered those plans when he tore ligaments in his knee.
"That's when I was like 'Do I decide to go back to the streets or do I decide to do something different?'" Jackson said. "You won't meet a retired drug dealer. Not a one. That's when a recruiter came to our school."
Although he didn't relish the idea of running, surviving in the woods or any other thing the Army entailed, Jackson decided to take the recruiter's offer and enlisted.
"I became a dental hygienist for a while, but my hands are really big, so that didn't work out," Jackson joked. "I decided to travel with the Army and they showed me some beautiful places."
Jackson left the Army in 2000 and his mom encouraged him to apply to the Shreveport Fire Department, where he was hired. Two years later he became a paramedic.
In 2008 he decided to re-enlist in the Army because he had "unfinished business." He joined Officer Candidate School, became a military police officer and was then sent to Iraq. During his time overseas, Jackson worked as a personal security detail for a one-star Army general. He was proud to say they didn't lose a single man during his time there. After he returned home, Jackson went back to working as a firefighter and paramedic for the city of Shreveport.
"You may be wondering why I'm here," Jackson told the cadets. "It's because I want you to see the choices I made and how they changed my life. I was no different than you. I made my choices. I got my education and then the military changed my life. The military can change your life, too. They pay you to run, do some push-ups, have a little discipline and serve your country. They give you free healthcare and education. All you have to do is make the choice."
By a show of hands, the cadets indicated that more than half of them have plans to join the military upon completing the YCP.
All YCP cadets take the Armed Services Aptitude Test (ASVAB) while in residence and earn their GED's.
Cadets must serve 40 hours of community service to graduate. Some of the many projects include working with the Fuller Center of Webster, serving in a soup kitchen in Shreveport, Minden Main Street Project, Springhill and Minden nursing homes, Lake Bistineau clean up, clean up at The Farm and litter detail at Camp Minden in conjunction with Louisiana Keep It Green.
After 22 weeks of being in the residential part of the program where the youth stay at Camp Minden, they enter the second phase where case managers keep up with the graduates after they re-enter the community. YCP also offers mentors to work with the youth.
Another aspect to the program is officials at YCP offer motivational speakers for cadets on Wednesday nights. That is why Jackson came to speak to them. This was his first time speaking to the group.
"I think I'm going to try to get him (Jackson) in the next cycle and have him speak earlier in the cycle," said Shawn Hatcher of the YCP. "He was fantastic. If he could just get through to two or three of the kids, it's more than worth it."
A colonel for whom he worked PSD in Iraq recently contacted Jackson. That colonel has since been promoted to a general and Jackson was asked to be his aid. He will report for duty in August in New Orleans.
"It's about the choices you make," Jackson said. "There are some things you can't undo, you can't make better, you can't say you're sorry when you're done. You can't take it back. But there are some decisions that can change your life. The military was that decision for me. You have to make your own."
Hatcher said YCP is always looking for community service projects, speakers and mentors for the YCP.
To ask about becoming a mentor, contact Melissa Carter, coordinator, at 382-4110.