“Afghanistan really made me realize that you can die—you will not wake up one day,” William Jackson said.
For Jackson, a junior political science major from Auburn, serving in the military changed him in many ways.
Starting in the Army before graduating from high school, Jackson has now served in the military for six years, including one tour in Afghanistan.
He deployed during a difficult time in his life.
“I wasn’t as passionate about life (then),” Jackson said. “I was kind of lost.
“It wasn’t vibrant; it was all black and white and gray. I was going through a lot when I deployed, so when I got over there I had a lot of time to think. Seven thousand miles away from home, and I was like ‘Hey, wake up, you have a life to live.’ ”
“When I was deployed to Afghanistan, it was as a chaplain assistant,” Jackson said. “To provide security for the chaplain and religious assistance to all religions.”
During his time there, he continued the interests he had previously, having run track and cross country during high school, by running the Boston Marathon.
“I ran it in Afghanistan – that’s the funny part,” Jackson said. “They want to give the soldiers opportunities while they’re deployed.”
Jackson said that he trained for the marathon and that on the day of the event, a route was drawn that involved circling the base twice.
“I ran for 26.2 miles and couldn’t walk for two days afterwards,” he said. “The last mile, I just walked.”
During his time overseas he also become involved in spoken word poetry, a passion that he says has surprised people.
“Most people just write poetry, but I love to perform it,” he said. “It allows you to be honest with yourself.
“Once you get done, it’s like ‘Hey, this is who I am,’ and you get to look at your flaws.”
Jackson said that it started as a way to escape the reality of his day-to-day life there, which involved rockets shot overhead and poisoned food at the base.
“Me and my battle buddy did it,” he said. “She had been writing for a while, and I had been listening. Poetry kept me sane.”
Now attending Troy, Jackson says that he regularly hosts poetry sessions at his house.
“Poetry is my form of prayer. It’s more intimate for me,” he said. “On my bad days I write, and on my good days I write.”
He is also the president of the NAACP chapter on campus.
“I’m not a part of a lot of organizations, but whenever anyone needs me to speak or needs community service, I’m there,” he said. “I volunteer with Habitat for Humanity—I just go wherever I feel there’s a need.”
Jackson hopes to extend his outreach as a volunteer by joining the Peace Corps after graduating.
“I’m all about helping,” he said. “I love helping people, and if I had an opportunity to help people, that would be great.”
He wants to pursue a master’s in cultural anthropology afterward and hopes to become a professor after that.
“Do I see myself in the military 20 years from now?” he said. “No, I don’t.
“I’m really about learning to be able to move where God wants you to move, to be able to discern when seasons are over and it’s time to walk into something else.”
Jackson said he loves traveling and would like to incorporate that into whatever the future holds for him.
“I really enjoy talking to people,” he said. “My perfect life would consist of traveling, drinking great wine and writing poetry about people, adventures and God.”
Overall, he said that he has learned a lot from his experiences abroad and at home.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is just to be true to who you are,” Jackson said. “People are going to love or hate me; there’s no in between. In order to be at peace, you have to identify your flaws. This is who I am; I can work with this. Just understand who you are.”