When Cielito Jackson broke bread with her fellow Filipino-Americans in 1985 during her first assignment in Fort Drum, New York, she felt a sense of camaraderie. This tradition would follow her as she moved from post to post, including overseas deployments to Germany, Bosnia and Iraq, she said. Despite being far from home, the tradition of enjoying Filipino cuisine and conversing in her native tongue provided a sense of comfort.
“A Filipino trait called ‘bayanihan’ (communal unity) and hospitality are prominent in core values,” she said. “There's a joke that if you invite one, then that one invites one or two and so on.”
For Jackson, now a retired sergeant major, these gatherings were more than mere cookouts. They signified the power of community and the ability to overcome obstacles during a 32-year military career. Today, as an advocate for women in the military, Jackson, 54, stresses the significance of camaraderie, which she believes has a profound impact on soldiers on and off the battlefield.
Overcoming stereotypes to serve
Jackson moved to the U.S. from the Philippines as a teenager and joined the Army in 1985 to both repay the country that welcomed her family, and to pursue her education.
“I'd only been in the country two years,” she said. “So, the accent was there. I just finished high school. I was very young. So, all of those things kind of converged.”
In 1990, she took a job as a career counselor for the Army.
“My responsibility was to retain our soldiers,” she said. “If they decide that they want to leave the military, then we also counsel them to continue their service by joining the Reserve component.”
Initially, Jackson encountered skepticism and disapproval, with some labeling her a "pencil pusher" who was unlikely to experience combat. To make matters worse, a male civilian employee went so far as to suggest that her role was insignificant and dispensable.
Nevertheless, she persevered.
In 1995, Jackson received an unexpected deployment to Bosnia. That meant leaving her 5-year-old daughter, who had recently undergone surgery, in the care of her ailing grandfather.