Defenders keep legacies alive

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ashley Thornton
  • 45th Security Forces Squadron
She was an Airman 1st Class who recently celebrated her 21st birthday during her first deployment when she made the ultimate sacrifice. 

That could be me.

This startling thought would not leave my mind as I stood at attention at the 10th anniversary of the memorial for Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Jacobson in Pompano Beach, Florida, Sept. 27, 2015.

It was the first memorial I had ever attended, let alone planned, and was joined by 30 of my fellow  "Defenders," the 45th Security Forces Squadron.

I could relate to Jacobson; she was fresh out of the security forces academy and at her first assignment with so much left to see in her military career.

Only, she didn't get a chance to see past two years of service. She was immediately deployed to Iraq during an aggressive time of the War on Terror. Her tough and determined natures, as well as infectious smile, were an inspiration.

She knew if she went off base in that Humvee, anything could happen.  She went anyway. Unfortunately, the vehicle taking Jacobson to the border of Iraq and Kuwait was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED) on Sept. 28, 2005.

She opened my eyes to seeing that anything can happen; life is short.

All Airmen should be aware of what they signed up for. When I saw the flag being folded for her at the memorial ceremony I was thinking, "you don't want that to be you."

We volunteered to travel to her gravesite in Pompano Beach to remember her, one of our famed 10 Fallen Defenders.  I had to make sure there were enough of us to stand in formation and console the family. It was overwhelming, but with the help of my leadership things went smoothly.

The crowd wasn't overly emotional; they accepted Jacobson was gone. Yet, her father said her memory is a haunting reflection upon her 10-year-old sister's face. He spoke words of sympathy to the brave Airmen who also signed up to do what Jacobson did.

I remembered how my father spoke about how I can better myself and my country, with a great opportunity to learn more than just what our small town had to offer, if I joined the Air Force.  He encouraged me to do something other young women at home didn't do. I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself.

Jacobson's selflessness stood out as strongly as the power of the blue beret that drew me into putting Security Forces down as one of my choice career fields. A Defender stands out. They enforce the law and act as symbols representing the strength of the Air Force.

Some Defenders gave their all trying to save others, and it is important for us in the career field to remember them. We have approximately one dozen of our closest wingmen deployed right now, and we support them as often as we can with care packages. In such a difficult environment, it is always important to keep morale up.

What Jacobson did could be any one of us. We always need to have each other's backs. That's what her grandmother expected of us when she asked us to plan the 10th anniversary of the memorial.

Always remember what you are doing is for others, and what you are doing is for this country.