AFDW commander retires after 31 years of service

  • Published
  • By Abigail Meyer

From the time he was a young child, Maj. Gen. Joel Jackson, Air Force District of Washington commander, was looking to the sky. What he eventually found there was not just a job, but a lifestyle and a community whether he was in the air or on the ground.

“Flying in the Air Force has been a tremendous opportunity. When you go to a non-flying assignment, people ask, ‘Do you miss the flying?’ The answer is always, ‘I don’t miss the flying; I miss being around the flying,’” Jackson said. “The culture of flying in the United States Air Force and the culture of the squadron is just so much fun. You just really want to go to work every day whether you’re flying that day or not.”

Jackson started his career at the Air Force Academy, earned a master’s degree and began flying KC-10A Extender tanker aircraft. He appreciated the diverse mission aerial refueling provided, as well as his role in the overall Air Force mission.

“I always enjoyed that customer service aspect of being a tanker pilot to know that someone else is counting on me to be the best me I can be so that they can do their mission,” Jackson said. “Without the tanker mission, they can’t do their mission. Without them doing their mission, someone else could be in a world of hurt.”

Jackson’s career took him around the world and then some. One of his most memorable flights is a day written in the history books, where he was a part of the first U.S. action in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001.

“I had the honor of day one of Operation Enduring Freedom to lead the three-ship of KC-10s that refueled the two-ship of B-2 bombers that did the first drop into Afghanistan,” Jackson said. “So that was cool to be part of an actual mission like that. People today have been fighting wars for 20 plus years, so it’s just normal, but I grew up Cold War era which was focused on training only…For those of us around at 9-11, to get to go do that was pretty meaningful.”

The culture and teamwork of the Air Force has been a cornerstone for Jackson’s career. He said it is all about culture and camaraderie, not just the individuals.

“As the Chief [Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Q. Brown, Jr.] says, ‘It’s the quality of service that is the important thing,’” Jackson said. “But you only feel the quality of service if you allow yourself to get ingrained in the culture. If you try to leave yourself on the outside and if you try to just call it a job, it will just be a job and you won’t have fun or feel fulfilled. If you try to put yourself in the culture and be ingrained in it, you will have fun. It is a choice.”

Jackson said knowing what he and his team brought to the mission made it impactful. He said airpower was his way of making sure the troops on the ground were safe. But it was ultimately teamwork that made it happen.

“The only way that airpower could be there is if a tanker was in the right place at the right time with the right amount of gas to help,” Jackson said. “It’s not until the entire team comes together and does their job, to include the non-flying people at the bases we just came from, that the mission is complete. The camaraderie and drive of the mission has been very meaningful.”

As for his time at AFDW, Jackson said it has been extremely rewarding.

One major accomplishment he said AFDW has achieved under his leadership is really cementing the support AFDW provides Airmen across the world.

“When the COVID pandemic happened and everyone was required to get the vaccine, leaders had to ensure everyone was accounted for, and that implied you know who everybody is and who they belong to. We had no idea who everybody in AFDW was around the world. There was no computer system to do it - we had to manually figure this out,” Jackson said.

Once the team began to connect the people of the worldwide mission, the goal became to do in in a way that was enduring.

“Let’s not just make it accurate once; we need to get this figured out so ten years from now we still know who everyone is. The team has done great work and we’re still working to make it more thorough and 100 percent effective,” Jackson said. “So that’s the biggest legacy we’ll leave here - helping the next generations of Airmen.”

This will be an ongoing effort for the AFDW as Jackson starts a new chapter. He and his wife Lanette are ready for what the future brings.

“AFDW is the best place to work in the National Capital Region and it’s not just because of the mission and the location of Andrews; it’s because of the people,” Jackson said. “And I want to thank the people of AFDW for making it such a great place to work. For anyone out there who isn’t part of AFDW, it is a great place to work and we’d love to have you on our team.”

Jackson will hand over the reins to the incoming commander at a ceremony in September.