Jennifer Jackson moved to Westport in 2003, attracted in large part by the school system. Like many newcomers, she fell in love with the town. And like many, she sought ways to give back.
Almost immediately, she became a Cub Scout leader. Her son was in fourth grade, and as he rose through the ranks, Jackson did too. Before long, she became Scoutmaster for Troop 100. The boys thought that was cool; after all, she was a Marine. For her part, Jackson saw similarities between leading a Boy Scout troop, and being an officer in the Marine Corps.
Earlier this month, Maj. Jackson retired after more than 20 years of military service. There was a special ceremony at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, followed by a small party at her Westport home.
Jackson's route to the Marines began as a little girl in Iowa. She loved her hometown, but dreamed of "growing wings, and flying away." She spent a year in Brazil as a high school exchange student. At the University of Iowa -- where she majored in Portuguese and linguistics -- Jackson met students who were becoming Marines.
She was commissioned through the Officer Candidate program as a second lieutenant in 1990. She trained at Quantico and Camp Lejeune, then spent active duty at Twentynine Palms, California.
She spent much of her career as an administrative officer for the Mobilization Training Unit in New York. After 9/11, Jackson was activated as part of the emergency response team, augmenting the public affairs team. Twice in her career, she served as the interpreter when the commandant of the Brazilian Marine Corps visited his U.S. counterpart.
Jackson's military training enhances her work with the Boy Scouts. One of the troop's favorite activities is Fleet Week. Jackson hands out MREs -- the modern version of chow -- and shepherds her charges onto a train. They tour Tall Ships, examining weapons systems and helicopters.
"That's stuff most boys in this area don't get to see," Jackson notes. "They always love it."
And the Marines on the ships love seeing Scouts in uniform. The service members hustle the boys to the front of lines, and challenge them to push-up contests.
Jackson has used her connections with private pilots in Westport to take the Scouts up in the air. Several have co-piloted planes.
She is big on leadership building. Her troop has done an aerial ropes course at Catamount. This year, they look forward to trying out the new zip line at Bridgeport's Discovery Museum.
"Boys who might not fit in on sports teams or other activities find a home in scouting," Jackson says. She has found a home there too. She's active at the district level, and has been a staff member at national jamborees.
But Scouting is only part of her volunteer efforts. A year after arriving in Westport, Jackson joined the Young Woman's League. One of her first projects was the Gillespie Center. It is still one of her most meaningful activities.
"Working there is a really good reminder that despite living in an affluent town, people here are homeless," she says. Jackson has chaired the Young Woman's League's Gillespie project since 2005.
She also chairs the organization's crafts group. This year, they made a birdhouse for the Project Return sale. She knew little about the home for girls before she started, but was gratified to see "amazing artists coming together for another excellent cause."
It's clear that Jackson seldom sits still. Knitting might seem like an incongruous hobby for someone so active -- and a Marine, to boot -- but she sees it as a natural extension of her life. Her grandmother taught her to knit. Now Jackson uses it as "a great way to do something productive when I'm not moving around."
Besides Boy Scouts, knitting classes have been the best ways for Jackson to meet Westporters. "Quilting bees and sewing circles have been around since ancient times," she notes. "Women have always sat around chatting -- and solving problems."
In 2004, Jackson started a blog. The tagline is "everything you wanted to know about my knitting obsession, but were afraid to ask." The blog's title -- Major Knitter -- is a sly reference to both her crafting prowess, and her rank in the Marines.
Ah yes, the Marines. As she prepared for retirement this month, Jackson reflected on her 22 years of service. One of her last tasks was running a two-week training course for new leaders at Fort Dix. Coincidentally, most were 22 years old.
"They're highly motivated -- the crème de la crème," she says. "It's amazing to watch this next generation start to take over. It warms your heart to see them be decisive, make decisions, and get the job done. I can't image a better way to end my military career."