AF boom operator finalist for military fatherhood award

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    When they called his name — his actual name, not the invective often spewed at new recruits — Senior Airman Jonathan Jackson was sure the news was bad.

    Instructors aren’t interested in feelings at basic military training. It’s their job to shape airmen for the fight, so to be called by his name and treated as a person, Jackson was sure it meant bad news.

    Senior Airman Jonathan Jackson, 6th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender boom operator, hugs his children, Nolan and Thomas, after returning from deployment. Nolan and Thomas are two of seven foster children Jackson has fathered in his life along with his wife, Katie. (Photo supplied)

    After a long walk to the first sergeant’s office, the young airman was told his wife was on the phone and wanted to know how he felt about adopting a child to whom they had been a foster parent. He immediately said yes.

    “It was a total flip of emotions,” Jackson said.

    The child, Thomas, 4, is one of seven children the Jacksons have fostered since 2007.

    He and 7-year-old Nolan now live with the family permanently.

    For his efforts, the National Fatherhood Initiative recently named Jackson, now a 6th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender boom operator, as one of three finalists for its 2012 Military Fatherhood Award. NFI is an organization geared toward helping children grow with involved, responsible, committed fathers. The Military Fatherhood Award recognizes a military father who displays an ongoing commitment and dedication to his children, makes extraordinary efforts to father from a distance when deployed, successfully balances military and family life and makes an effort to mentor other military fathers or children.

    His wife, Katie, said her husband tends to shy away from the spotlight because of his personality.

    “Jonny is by far the most selfless person I’ve ever met,” she said. “He just always puts us first in every single situation.”

    Katie grew up in Kalispell, Mont., home schooled and sister to several foster children. She met Jackson, a Mesa, Ariz., native, when he visited Montana to work after his sophomore year of high school. Jackson’s cousin played volleyball on the same team of home-schooled girls as Katie.

    After he finished high school, Jackson moved to Montana to be with Katie. The couple married and, in 2007, just six months after their wedding, Nolan became their first foster child.

    Nolan was 1 when the couple took him in. Jackson said the stable environment of their home allowed him to go from crawling to walking in one week.

    As foster parents, both Jacksons stressed that their interest is in helping the parents as much as the kids, since the circumstances surrounding their children’s removal is often stressful and can, at times, be beyond the parents’ control.

    “It’s about letting them feel you’re not trying to take their children,” Jackson said. “It helps the parents feel like somebody is on their side.”

    Katie echoed those words.

    Jackson and his wife don’t shy away from telling Nolan and Thomas about their past.

    “They get to read that file when they’re 18,” he said. “There shouldn’t be any surprises. We answer questions to the best of our ability.”

    Jackson said that though it’s true he doesn’t like the attention the nomination brings, he hopes it shines a light on the issues of fatherhood and foster care.

    “Men gain their identity from other men, so having a father figure is huge in a child’s development,” he said. “It’s an honor to be recognized for that.”

    The other nominees for the award are Navy Lt. Dennis Kelly serving at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Army 1st Lt. William Edwards, who serves at Fort Jackson, S.C.

    Voting continues through May 20. To vote, visit the National Fatherhood Initiative at www.fatherhood.org.