by Jennifer G. Williams
Theirs is a military family story, through and through. Melissa Jackson met her husband, Cody, at the chow hall at NAS New Orleans, when both were stationed there as Marines in 2007.
“He asked me a question that I didn’t know the answer to, so I spend a ton of time finding the answer, then tracking him down to tell him,” she says. “But when I found him, he wasn’t interested in the answer — he just wanted to talk to me. There was an instant connection and we’ve been together ever since.”
Cody had joined the Marines in 2004 and was with a Marine infantry sniper platoon while Melissa was with a helicopter squadron. They dated, married, and planned to each serve out their 20 years with the Marines, but then Cody decided in 2010 to switch to the Army so he could fly Apache helicopters.
When he made the switch, Melissa, who had spent nine years in the Marines, saw an opportunity, and used her Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to go to school and pursue another dream — becoming an ER trauma nurse.
“One of my favorite things about serving in the military was the sense of pride and accomplishment, and knowing that I’m doing something to help take care of everyone else,” says Melissa. “And that’s also how I feel about being a nurse.”
Melissa realized her dream, working in the ER of a local hospital near Fort Campbell until their youngest was born last year, and she decided to take a year off from work to be with Cole.
They have two older children, Avery, 5, featured in the winning photo, and Joey, who is 13 and spending the summer with his grandparents in Florida. Melissa was thrilled to capture her daughter’s excitement over daddy coming home. “Avery is 100% Daddy’s Girl,” she says. “They share the same red hair and attitude. As much as she always wants daddy to come home, she gets a little nervous. I love their relationship… they adore each other. This picture was taken a few years ago, and there have been many similar homecomings, but I just didn’t have my camera for all of them.”
The Jackson family currently lives just a few minutes from the airfield at Fort Campbell, which the children love because they can watch all the aircraft going overhead, says Melissa. The family “might” PCS this year, but don’t know yet for sure.
“Our #1 pick would be to stay in the southeast, and go to Savannah, Georgia,” says Melissa, who grew up just south of Boston, Mass., in Foxborough. “I miss it up there, but I like the weather down here so much better. I don’t know…spending that many years in the snow…the South was calling my name!”
Melissa’s parents moved to south Florida when she was in high school and she joined the Marines soon after graduation. Cody is from the New Orleans area and agrees that the Southern climate is best for them — all of their assignments so far have been in the South—from New Orleans to Mississippi to Alabama and now Tennessee. “It’s just worked out for us,” he says.
But Melissa says their family’s dream assignment is Alaska. “The adventurous side of us would love to go to Alaska — but then again, there’s that cold weather,” she says. “Fort Carson would be awesome, too. We kinda want to go back up to the snow, since we’ve been in the South for so long…but I know once I get there, I’ll want to come back!”
Cody says he loved being a Marine and now he loves being an Army aviator. “I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the best attack helicopter squadron in the world — formerly 3rd battalion, 101st aviation regiment,” he says. “Being able to provide support to the guys on the ground, sorta being their guardian angel, looking out for them, making sure they’re safe…I’ve been the guy on the ground and now I’m the guy watching out for the guy on the ground. It’s exactly what I want to do.”
The family has seen a few deployments, and several training assignments that took Cody away from them, but technology has helped them stay in touch. “On my most recent deployment, FaceTime really helped me maintain my relationship with my daughter,” says Cody. “She was excited to see me, she knew how I was, we interacted on a daily basis — there wasn’t this block of time, or block of life that was just blank for me. She was able to recognize me, know me — that’s one of the benefits to the drawback of being away.”
Melissa agrees. “With the whole digital age, it’s amazing. I know back when I first joined, that was the hardest thing—being away from family and friends, but now, with all the technology we have…Cody’s first deployment was ‘07-’08, we had email. I heard his voice maybe twice. Skype wasn’t as effective then. This most recent deployment versus that last one, and all the training sessions when he’s away, it’s a world of difference. The drawbacks we used to have don’t seem as bad anymore.”