ARLINGTON, Texas – In the heat of a Texas summer morning, Tech. Sgt. Brenna Jackson directs vehicles through the exit of the food distribution operations area, noting each driver's face as they pass her by. Some drivers smile through their masks and wave a thank you.
Most pull their masks off to guarantee their "thank you" is heard.
"One driver rolled down her window with tears streaming down her face, just to say thanks," said Jackson. "She didn't know how she was going to feed her family."
Jackson, 136th Security Forces Squadron squad leader and NCO in charge of the outgoing traffic control for food distribution operations in Tarrant County and surrounding areas, is part of the Texas Military Department's COVID response mission. Each week she works alongside several other Air National Guard members and the Tarrant Area Food Bank, packing and distributing food for community members in need.
Her favorite part of the operation is directing the exit traffic.
"I don't give them the food," said Jackson. "I just make sure they get out safely."
"I've loaded up vehicles at some distributions, but I like being at the exit points. When you're loading up vehicles, you don't get to talk to the families you're feeding. At the exit, though, you get a brief moment with each of them, and their happiness is very contagious."
Jackson grinned as she explained the many ways community members tend to react.
"They roll down their windows, some of them crying, but all of them with big smiles on their faces, thanking us for what we did, for our service," said Jackson. "And it just makes you feel good, knowing you've made someone's day a little better. This kind of work is why I joined the Guard. It makes me cry."
Each week, Jackson works alongside a Citizen-Airmen team, packaging up to 50,000 pounds of food per day. In the warehouse, the Texas summer heat is stifling, but the Airmen push through.
"Sometimes we do fruits and vegetables, sometimes dry foods," said Jackson. "And it's just a variety pack, which makes it easier for distribution points."
Jackson said seeing the end result during distribution is the most rewarding part of the mission.
"That makes doing all of this worth it – the hard work, packing in a warehouse with no air conditioning, all the physical labor five days a week – all worth it," said Jackson. "Just knowing that you're helping people and making their day better, that's my favorite part."
Military members often don't get to see the result of their portion of the mission, explained Jackson, so it's hard to see the big picture. It profoundly impacts the team to see what they packaged each week loaded into cars at distribution points, feeding families in need.
"Hey, I put that together!" exclaimed Jackson with a grin. "And it's being used. We get to see where it starts and where it ends up. And it's great knowing that it's actually making a difference and it's not just collecting dust somewhere."
Seeing the result in this mission has a genuinely positive effect on the Airmen, who put in an extra effort to ensure as many families as possible can be fed.
"They're hard workers, but they make the job fun and worthwhile," said Jackson. "They don't complain about it. They come to work, they know when to play, but when it's time to work, they don't stop until we're done."
Pointing at one Airman working traffic control, Jackson indicates his main job during the COVID mission is driving a truck.
"When they're waiting for their truck to be loaded, they're not sitting back relaxing," said Jackson. "They step up and ask, 'What do you guys need help with?' And they help us get caught up. They see a need and go do it."
Jackson said their work ethic was indicative of her whole team.
"I'm very proud of them. I could not have asked for a better team."
During the COVID-19 response, Texas Air National Guard members from the 136th Airlift Wing packed and distributed over six million pounds of food, benefiting more than 80,000 families and individuals in and around Tarrant County.
They are Texans serving Texas.