John Jackson, a Little Rock native and graduate of UA Little Rock with a degree in anthropology, is a first-year student at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. He is pursuing a concurrent master’s degree in public health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science.
Jackson is a member of the United States Marine Corps, and has participated in several humanitarian operations. In addition, he has worked as an EMT-B Medic, providing field care and treatment to civilians and military personnel with the Arkansas Army National Guard. His areas of public service interest include international relations, access to healthcare, renewable energy, and access to safe drinking water.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
Right out of high school I joined the Marines, and I basically left Arkansas for about 13 years. In 2010, I left the Marine Corps and came back to Arkansas to go to school at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to study anthropology. While I was in undergrad studies, I joined the National Guard where I became a combat medic, and I’m still doing that currently.
What prompted you to pursue your concurrent degree in public health at UAMS?
One of my interests for anthropology is a field called medical anthropology, which is studying how societies interact and deal with an illness or a sickness. For example, here in the United States, and western developed countries, we get sick and go to a doctor. Whereas there are other cultures that believe if you get sick, that means you did something terrible in a past life, or you upset your deity, or it’s some kind of immediate ancestor shaming kind of thing. That is something I was interested in looking at.
Because of my responsibilities outside of school, I was kind of geographically stuck in Arkansas, and that degree is not offered here. So, a public health degree became a good compromise. While doing the public health degree, I befriended an alumnus (of the Clinton School), Sarah Argue, who had suggested that with my given military background and my interest in cultures and public health that the Clinton School would be a really good fit for me and I should apply.
What are some of the humanitarian operations you participated in while in the Marine Corps?
When I was in active duty with the Marine Corps, back in about 2002 to 2003, Thailand had recently suffered a typhoon. The base we were working on with the Thai Marine Corps got turned into an evacuation camp. We gave people meals for a couple of days and some water, and all of a sudden one day, they were just leaving.
Most recently, over the summer, I was doing a partner choice station building in Central America with the Honduran Army. I went down with a group of National Guardsmen and we trained approximately 180-200 combined Honduran forces. We trained different forces like the EL TIGRES, which is the Honduran equivalent of LAPD Swat-style police officers, the Honduran Army, and the Honduran Navy members. We taught skills in basic infantry patrolling tactics, counter-narcotic operations, and field medicine, which is where I mostly specialized.
It was a little bit of a culture shock on several different levels that I don’t want to get into because it’s very military specific. The idea of having to take a shower with a water bottle isn’t foreign to me, however when I went to Honduras with the National Guard, which is the first time I was actually deployed with the National Guard, a lot of them were sort of in a culture shock that there was no running water. It kind of opened up my perspective. There are people that do not know that this is an issue and are unaware that indoor plumbing is not a universal thing, let alone safe, clean drinking water.
Expounding upon that, I would not only like to just make it more aware, maybe here locally, but I want to actually do something about it. Everyone should have safe, clean drinking water.
With the Thea Foundation practicum team, what are you most looking forward to? What have you done thus far for the project?
In complete honesty, I didn’t know anything about Thea until they said, “You’re working with Thea.” Anyway, I’m super excited to be on the program. What we’re doing is tracking down the scholarship winners from the last 10 years to find out what degree they got, how long it took them to finish school, and if they changed majors – very college-specific information. The reason we’re doing this is because prior to this project, the scholarship recipients have not been tracked in any kind of database.
Once we collect the information, we’re going to deliver that to the Thea Foundation owner and founder, Paul Leopoulos. He is going to use that information to create a binder to make the arts education world more aware, especially here in Arkansas.
We have talked about some of the things he’d like to do later on – finding out how the Thea Foundation may have helped them otherwise professionally or socially. But right now, we are focusing on scholarship recipients and their progress in college.
What do you see yourself doing for your International Public Service Project?
I’ve put in some applications for some opportunities I’ve found out about through the Clinton School, but as far as what I want to do for my IPSP, I have no idea. There’s this constant thing in the back of my head that says it has to be health related because of the concurrent credit program, which is not a terrible thing, but otherwise I’ll have to do two IPSP projects – one for the Clinton School and one for UAMS. If I get to go somewhere else for another three months, that’s not the worst thing that could ever happen.
Does the fact that you have traveled internationally shape at all where you want to go?
If anything, it gives me personally more issues. I’ve traveled before with the government, mostly, if not entirely. So there’s the chance that if I could do it all over again, without the constraints of having a curfew or having some kind of organization telling you that you have to be at this place at this time, maybe I’d like to do that again and explore out on my own. But at the same time, I’ve already been there, why would I want to go back when I could go somewhere completely new and different?
I didn’t specify this at the beginning of the interview, but my job in the Marine Corps was a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear defense specialist. The meat and potatoes of that is weapons of mass destruction and how to protect yourself against them. It goes into a whole lot of nuclear weapons proliferation, weapons of mass destruction proliferation. I would definitely be interested in doing something as far as policy on that. One of my best memories from the Marine Corps is walking around in those capsulated moon suits looking for chemical weapons and decontaminated stuff. I enjoy doing stuff on the hazardous materials technician level. I’d like to do something with that, or maybe do something that’s more public health related, like epidemiology, which is what I’m focusing on at UAMS.
You listed A Message to Garcia as your favorite book. What is it about? Why is it your favorite?
It’s written during the Spanish American War, and the idea is that this guy is told to deliver this message to Garcia. He just goes and does it. It’s a book I read when I was in the Marines, and the idea is just immediate obedience to orders and to just get it done. The culture shock of getting out of the military and coming back is when you ask someone to go do something, you’re going to have to answer five or six questions of why you need them do to it. Just go do it. It will be done and we can move on from there. That’s how progress is developed, I think.