By Lt. Col. Ken O'Neil, Former 17th Security Forces Commander
/ Published September 18, 2012
GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas- --
On a cool autumn morning, a squadron commander, a chief, a first sergeant and a squadron staff were out running around the base track. It was a PT day, a Wednesday. At the time we started it was still a bit dark outside, when a young Airmen on the fitness center staff ran out from the front desk to inform the commander that the command post was on the phone with a notification. It's by far the worst thing for a squadron commander to ever hear in any notification from the command post...one of your Airman's full name and the three letters...K...I...A. That morning was Sept. 28, 2005.
As I reflect back on that day, it's very evident a large hole was left in a unit, a family, and an Air Force. Certainly the ranks are a lot thinner without a young leader like Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Jacobson in them. But what I also remember about that tragic day and the days and months that followed, was how a unit and wing pulled together to grieve, to reach out to Elizabeth's family, to heal. To later dedicate a gate in Jacobson's honor. To request an Air Force-level award be presented in her name annually to other Airmen displaying her professionalism in an expeditionary environment and have that request approved. To just get through everything together and while all that was happening, the Airmen never stopped doing their day-to-day mission. That's right, the mission never faltered. Why? Because the Airmen assigned to the 17th Security Forces Squadron and 17th Training Wing were professionals. Just like their fellow Airman...Elizabeth Jacobson--a professional Airman.
Despite the grief they were all feeling in our small unit, the Airmen realized that they were part of something greater than themselves--they were Airmen and Defenders in the best Air Force on the planet. They knew and lived by the core values, and they picked each other up as good wingmen would. They knew they didn't merely have jobs to show up to and complete a task; there was no time card to punch. They were Airmen and their profession was and still is the profession of arms, whether they were on duty or off duty, all day and every day. Professional Airmen know the sacrifice that comes with the profession, knowing that some of them may have to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country as Elizabeth did.
On the seventh year anniversary of her death, as you drive through the Jacobson Gate, take time to reflect on why you joined the Air Force, and ask yourself, are you a professional Airman? Are you willing and able to uphold the highest adherence to standards, as she did? Are you willing to step up to the toughest assignments, knowing well the full spectrum of sacrifice you may be asked to make, as she did? If you can answer yes to those questions, keep on keeping on.