God is his co-pilot
By Allen Palmeri
September 9, 2003
|Jackson has logged 668 combat missions in the Harrier jump jet. Pathway photos by Bob Baysinger|
A Marine and public servant who dons ‘the full armor’ of the God Most High
JEFFERSON CITY – State Rep. Jack Jackson has been there, flown that.
From the Boeing Harrier AV-B8, his specialty, to the B-2 Spirit bomber based at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, the retired Marine lieutenant colonel has seemingly done it all. Jackson flew 668 combat missions during the Vietnam War and has logged 5,000 flight hours as chief test pilot for Boeing.
But on Aug. 25, Jackson brings his Harrier jet fighter to a hover just 140 feet above the runway at Jefferson City Memorial Airport before landing it — vertically like a helicopter.
"Are there any pilots here?" he said to the group that had assembled in the broiling sun to watch this portion of the Missouri Centennial of Flight Celebration. A few hands went up.
"It’s easier to stop and land than land and stop," said the smiling Flying Leatherneck.
Jackson, 60, is about to retire as a test pilot. His demonstration in Jefferson City was followed by one more in Chesterfield. That was it, he said.
"I’ve been flying Harriers since 1970. I was the 74th Harrier pilot trained. When the production ends the first of December, I’m going to retire from The Boeing Company."
It will mark the end of a versatile career in both military and civilian aviation. How many Marines do you know who have flown the $1.2 billion pride of the Air Force, the B-2 stealth bomber?
When it comes to Jackson, it’s "been there, done that," for this is one Marine who has certainly got the T-shirt.
"It’s (the B-2) a big airplane," Jackson said. "It’s not designed to maneuver like you saw this fighter here, but it was designed to carry a lot, go far and be stealth. It was fun. I enjoyed it. (But) I’m not a big airplane guy. I’m a fighter guy.
"You know what they say, don’t you? There are two types of airplanes—fighters and targets!"
It’s a wonder those standing around didn’t start "HOO-HOO-HOOing" followed by a shrill "Semper Fi!"
|The Marine Corps likes the Harrier jet because it blends tactical mobility, responsiveness, reduced operating cost and basing flexibility, both afloat and ashore. Pathway photos by Bob Baysinger|
Jackie the fighter pilot
Jackson steps out of his sleek, 46-foot jet to greet the crowd of mid-Missourians that have gathered to hear him speak after his 10-minute aircraft demonstration.
"That’s the jet that defended your nation," he said. "It’s a war fighter machine."
Jackson knows war. He signed up to fly the Harrier in July 1967, when the Vietnam War was raging. He knows all about supporting tanks and infantry with the Harrier II jump jet. After all, he is a fighter, not a target.
"All through my combat time, the Lord’s been there for me," he said with the typical confidence of a fighter pilot and the humility of a sinner saved by grace.
His fighter pilot name is Jackie – not Jack. Pat Finneran, regional executive for Boeing, refers to him this way: "Jackie’s a genuine person who’s dedicated to doing what’s right no matter what he’s doing."
Finneran ought to know.
He and Jackson were Marine captains who came in contact with each other due to a tragic aircraft accident that left a number of aircrew members dead. Finneran and Jackson, who was a general’s aide at the time, were tasked with notifying the families of the deceased and through that experience, developed a special bond.
"I immediately liked Jackie when I met him because his concern was for the Marines and their families," Finneran said. "That was the beginning of a friendship that’s lasted a long time."
As a young Marine, Jackie was preoccupied with flying. He will never forget how harrowing it was landing a Harrier for the first time.
"Of course, it’s by yourself," he said. "I remember thinking, ‘OK Lord, if You can get this down, I think I can handle the next one.’"
When someone has flown as many combat missions as Jackie has, they are alive for one reason, said his wife, Arleen. That is because Jackie the fighter pilot is actually Jack the Christian.
"Jack tells people right up front he wouldn’t go near the jet without the Lord," she said.
Jack the Christian leader
Jackson became a Christian when he was 12 years old at a church in Crown Point, Ind., through the ministry of Vacation Bible School. He said he has been a Southern Baptist since his days at Purdue University. He graduated in 1966 and earned a master’s degree in 1977 from Pepperdine University, the Christian school in Malibu, Calif., that among other things affirms that "God is uniquely revealed in Jesus Christ.
He was chairman of the deacons last year at First Baptist Church, Ellisville, where he and Arleen remain active members. They have three children and six grandchildren.
"I was saved through Jack’s testimony," Arleen said. "I was raised in another faith. My family didn’t even come to our wedding. We’ve been through a lot, and the Lord has always been there to love us and take care of us."
Jack goes to great lengths to preserve their union, Arleen said.
"When he was testing in Maryland, he called me in the middle of the afternoon and said, ‘Arleen, I took the aircraft here and in order for me to get back to our staying point I have to ride with a female engineer in a car. I want your permission to ride with her.’ I almost laughed over the phone," she said.
"As it turned out, another male engineer rode back with them."
Finneran said such was typical Jack Jackson.
"He always seems to do what’s right, he always seems to do his best and he always seems to respect people."
He respects them enough to tell them the truth about Jesus, sin and eternity.
His testimony, which he enjoys sharing, is based on Ephesians 6: 10-17.
"I take my flight gear (for his presentation of the Gospel) and we do (portray) ‘the full armor of God.’"
Jack the state representative
His blue eyes flash like a pair of laser-guided Maverick missiles, weaponry that he is fully capable of firing from the wings of his Harrier. Once a Marine, always a Marine – ready to rumble whether with Viet Cong, Democrats or Satan.
Shifting from the flight line to the reception line, Rep. Jack Jackson, R-Wildwood, sticks out like a car mechanic at a Rotary International event. Dressed in his blue Boeing jump suit and surrounded by all kinds of sharp-looking, professional people in suits and ties, Rep. Jackson looks out of place, yet becomes the admired focus of attention – not as warrior, but as a public servant.
"Representative, you’re a little out of uniform today, but I like that uniform, too," said Gov. Bob Holden, jokingly pointing out how odd Jackson looked. On a stage inside a hangar, Jackson dutifully takes his position along with 10 other men and two women in business suits. Jackson, now ever the politician, plays along with the governor’s gag and warmly acknowledges His Honor.
But when it comes to the moral issues of the day, Rep. Jackson does not shy away from a lively debate.
The governor is wrong on abortion, Rep. Jackson said, adding that lawmakers need to override the governor’s veto of the 24-hour waiting bill for women considering abortion. The override vote is set for Sept. 10 at the Capitol and he plans to be right in the middle of it.
"In my combat missions, they shot at me, I shot at them," Jackson said. "They took some of our lives, we took some of theirs. War is an ugly thing, but in some respects all was fair. But to take the life of an unborn child is wrong. They have done nothing!"
Jackson’s thus-far short political career seems to be in as steep a vertical climb as he often takes his Harrier, having been selected president of his freshman class of legislators. The Veterans of Foreign Wars named him Legislator of the Year. So while he has officially retired as a test pilot, he clearly has his eye on a new mission.
"I’d like to fly until I’m 100, but if I never flew another minute I will die a happy man," Jackson said.