David Jackson is a broadcast journalism major from Montgomery.
Like many journalism students, he has several classes in Wallace Hall and Patterson Hall.
But unlike many of his classmates, Jackson is 53 years old.
Jackson’s family is originally from Montgomery, but his father served in the U.S. Army. As a result, his family moved several times to different bases across the United States.
Eventually, Jackson and his family moved to Bad Kissingen, West Germany. They lived there for three and a half years.
Jackson began attending school at Bad Kissingen Elementary School, an American school operated by the Department of Defense. At that school, Jackson said elementary school carried on until eighth grade, and students would then move on to high school.
Jackson said some of his classes were called “host country” classes in which he learned German and also learned about the culture of the area.
“It’s a very festive country; very beautiful,” Jackson said. “It’s a time I won’t ever forget.
“Years and years later, I still keep in contact with classmates I attended elementary and high school with in Germany. We have reunions. A lot of those schools, because they closed the military installations down (after the Cold War), a lot of those schools we attended were shut down or just no longer exist. But we have all class reunions, where, perhaps we might not have attended the same school, but we were all considered ‘military brats,’ or military dependents or things of that nature.”
Jackson said that these reunions are usually held in different cities each year.
Jackson started to go to high school in Wirsberg, West Germany, but this new school wasn’t an American school.
“Then my parents made a ‘command decision,’ as we call it, and decided that I should have some stability,” Jackson said. “They wanted me to have proms, memories and stuff like that, so they decided at the end of ninth grade that they would send me back to Alabama to live with my grandparents.”
From tenth grade until his graduation, Jackson attended Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery.
Jackson joined the military in 1984, shortly after he graduated high school.
“It had a lot to do with having traveled,” Jackson said. “My parents, having served in the military, coming back to Alabama was somewhat of a culture shock because I was accustomed to being in a diverse community and around multitudes of people from all walks of life.
“When we moved back to Alabama in 1981, it took an adjustment period, but by the time I’d gotten adjusted I realized that the military was probably the better option for me,” he continued.
Jackson said he wanted to travel, which the military would give him the opportunity to do, so he decided to join the U.S. Marines.
Jackson started of his Marine career with 13 weeks of boot camp.
Jackson said he enlisted at an interesting time. The Vietnam War had ended not too long before, and other conflicts (such as Grenada and Beirut) were still to come.
There were several times Jackson said he was almost shipped out, but he ultimately wound up with embassy duty.
Jackson was chosen to be a part of the Marine Security Guard program. Jackson said this program was very selective of who they chose.
“You had to be considered the top 10% to be eligible to go to the school,” he said.
Jackson qualified and was sent to Marine Security Guard training in Quantico, Virginia, which is also highly selective of who makes it through.
“One of the things they tell you about Marine Security Guard school is, ‘look to your left, look to your right, because the person you’re sitting next to probably won’t be here when you graduate,’” Jackson said. “It’s a very high, intense school.”
Jackson said the reason the program was so selective and weeded out so many Marines was because being an embassy security guard was considered “independent duty.”
“You’re in embassies around the world where there is no supervision,” he said. “There are no officers on the embassy program.
“We are considered ambassadors of the United States. We are the first people that a person coming into our consulates and embassies see when they come in to get visas and things of that nature.”
He explained that his duties were to protect the diplomats, ambassadors and other personnel at the embassy, as well as protecting the information within the embassy.
He also said that terrorism was a consistent concern. While terrorism wasn’t that common in America at the time, it was somewhat common in Europe.
“There’s a term that’s become common here in the U.S., ‘if you see something say something,’” he said. “That was a very practical term while on embassy duty because you see something and not say something and that could be the very thing that costs 250, 100 or maybe one life — and if you lost one life it was one life too many.”
Jackson said he once found something suspicious while on duty and had to make a judgment call on whether to report it. He said Marines on embassy duty were wary of being wrong and “crying wolf.”
But Jackson decided to call it in. It turned out to be a bomb.
The police and a bomb squad were called in, and despite an attempt at a controlled detonation under a blasting can, the blast still caused severe damage to a building that several Marines had been staying in before being evacuated.
No one was injured.
This happened on Jackson’s first embassy guard post in Paris, France. He served there for a year and a half, when he was selected to go to a different embassy in the mid 1980s.
“All of a sudden, here I am now, posted in Paris, doing well, minding my own business, and I get a call that, ‘you’ve been selected to go to Moscow, Russia.’”
Jackson was being sent to Moscow in the wake of an espionage scandal at the embassy, so once again, the selection process had been strict.
Jackson had to receive a high-level security clearance (above top-secret), and he had to enter Soviet Russia covertly.
“Because of all that was going on, we had to go in as something other than being affiliated with the military,” he said.
Jackson said the secrecy was due to the back-and-forth expulsion of diplomats that had been going on between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.
He said that he and the other embassy guards went in with the expectation of staying there for 90 days. They wound up staying for a year.
During his time in Moscow, Jackson said he witnessed many interesting and impactful events.
Jackson said he and the other guards had to drink water consistently to avoid becoming dehydrated from Soviet microwave attacks. (Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Soviet Union bombarded the U.S. embassy with microwaves, either to disrupt surveillance and communication equipment, or to try to cause harm to embassy personnel).
“They were actually microwaving us,” he said. “Like you cook food with a microwave.
“They were cooking us 24/7. To microwave something, you cook it from the inside out, so you’re basically draining the moisture out of it. So we were constantly thirsty.”
While in Moscow, Jackson said he got to meet President Ronald Reagan’s entire cabinet, including then-Vice-President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara.
Jackson said he was also able to witness the Moscow summit firsthand, during which Reagan and Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).
After Moscow, Jackson was sent to the U.S. embassy in Madrid, Spain, for about a year. But after Moscow, Jackson said he felt it was time to go home.
He was honorably discharged from the Marines in 1989. He spent some time in Atlanta, briefly going back to school and doing some work in the music industry.
After spending some time back at home, Jackson said he still wanted to travel. After having traveled all over the world, he realized that there were places in the U.S. he still wanted to see since he’d lived most of his life in Europe.
So, he got his CDL and became a truck driver. He was able to visit most states through his travels.
In 2012, he moved back to Montgomery after having promised his grandparents he’d go back to school and finish his education.
While living in Alabama, one of Jackson’s jobs was delivering soft drinks to Troy University. Part of this job involved delivering drinks to Chancellor Hawkins’ office.
Jackson started attending classes at Troy in 2014 and he is set to graduate in May 2020.
Jackson said going back to school at a later stage in life has been strange.
“It’s a different dynamic,” he said. “I’m probably as old as the average student’s parents.
“But it’s very interesting. I love the opportunity that it has provided.
“I’ve met a lot of great people, I love sharing these stories and seeing (students) embark on a journey that I’m now completing.”
In 2016, Jackson wrote and published a book titled “Life in the Second Half.” Jackson said it deals with exactly what he’s been experiencing while returning to school.
“Out of every situation, I like to think that there’s some positive in it,” he said. “I think out of this, the positive is: If I can do it, you can, too. It’s never too late.”