— By SALLY SEXTON
Weatherford’s Joyce Jackson calls her time in the Navy one of her greatest blessings.
Though she enlisted a little later than some, at the age of 41, it didn’t diminish her experience.
“I still laugh when I think about how it all came about,” Jackson said of her initial interest in joining.
Jackson was working at Northeast National Bank in North Richland Hills. Her son, in the Army, was stationed in Alaska, while her oldest daughter worked in Colorado and her younger daughter was a senior in high school.
After a particularly stressful day at work in March of 1980, Jackson had had enough.
“I threw some papers on my desk and jokingly said, ‘I’m going to run away and join the Army. It has to be more fun than this,’” she said.
To her surprise, Jackson’s co-worker told her about a friend who had joined the Navy and loved it.
During a break at work, Jackson called the friend, who informed her about the Advanced Pay Grade system, which accepts older people based on their civilian occupations.
“I had always wanted to fly, so I first called the Air Force but they didn’t have the same program and I was considered too old to fly,” Jackson said. “I called a Navy recruiter and he agreed to send me some information.”
Jackson went home to talk to her husband and son, who was a little surprised when Jackson asked him about joining the Navy.
“He said ‘I don’t care if that’s what you want to do,” she said. “Of course, he immediately began calling me ‘Squid.’”
One month before her 42nd birthday and the cut-off age to join the armed forces, Jackson went to Grand Prairie to take the enlistment exam. With no opening in the banking-related field, Jackson spoke with a Reserve Intelligence Program officer after finding out she had scored high enough to be involved in Intelligence.
Jackson’s first training was a two-week stint at APG school at NAS Dallas. It took her three years of training before she qualified as an intelligence specialist.
“Joining the military is like learning a different language,” she said. “I often felt as if there was a tape running in my head, always a little behind in conversation because I had to think through what the acronyms meant.”
During Jackson’s second year in the Navy, she was sent to training in San Diego, Calif., as an enlisted intelligence assistant, where she saw her first ship.
“I had grown up in Oklahoma, about as far away from an ocean and ships as you can get,” she said. “The EIA course was one of the hardest I ever took.”
In 1985, Jackson embarked on her first voyage out of the country, getting two weeks of duty in Munich, Germany.
“I know it must be true that God watches over fools and children, because he certainly watched over me,” she said. “It was quite an adventure, but I loved every minute of it and managed to go back to Germany three more times during my Navy career.”
That career also took her to Korea twice.
During the Desert Shield/Desert Storm operation, Jackson’s unit was activated, and she spent close to eight months on active duty in Hawaii.
Being a little older than some of her fellow Navy people, Jackson said it was a challenge rooming with teenagers.
“My service pales in comparison to other veterans, but living in a barracks with about 350 teenagers was not easy for an older person,” she said. “The teenagers played their boom boxes so loud it would nearly bounce you out of bed.”
At one point, Jackson received a “care package” from her husband containing soothing Hawaiian music on tape.
“I set the tape player at the head of my bed and played those tapes to drown out the other noise and lull me to sleep. To this day, I still get sleepy when I hear Hawaiian music.”
Because of her age, Jackson had several memorable experiences while serving in the Navy, including being recognized as the oldest sailor at the Fleet Intelligence Center in Hawaii, where she had the opportunity to cut the Navy’s birthday cake along with the center’s youngest sailor.
Jackson made Chief in 1991, the oldest sailor every initiated into the rank of Chief at the Naval Air Station in Key West, Fla.
In 1995, she was chosen as a member of the Tactical Analysis Team for Barbados. Shortly after that, a family issue would bring Jackson back home.
“I spent five months active duty in Key West and five months in Barbados before learning that my husband was facing bypass surgery, so I requested a release from active duty and came back to Fort Worth in April of 1996,” she said.
Jackson spent her last two years in the Navy attached to the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, D.C.
“On one two-week training course there, we toured every intelligence office in the area, and it was wonderful,” she said.
Jackson would go on to apply for, and receive reserve transition benefits, retiring after 18 years of service.