Jackie McNabb's desire to serve her country is deeply rooted in her family history. The U.S. Navy veteran's father and grandfather served in the U.S. Army, and one of her brothers was a Marine. And, as is the case with many young people who decide to enlist, she saw an opportunity to go out on her own. She admits that veterans' benefits such as tuition assistance were a big draw too.
McNabb, director of Enterprise Systems in Radford University's Division of Information Technology, was born and reared in Gary, Ind. Her first personal experience with the military was in high school, when she became involved in the youth organization Naval Sea Cadet Corps. "It got me hooked," she said. "I wanted to be on a ship and go out to sea."
She enlisted in the Navy in 1980 and was trained as an interior communications technician. Her home port was Charleston, S.C., where she was assigned to the USS Canopus, a submarine tender supporting ballistic missile submarines by providing repair and supply services.
"This was during the Cold War, and submarines were the highest priority strategic deterrent for the United States," McNabb said. "My job was to inspect and repair navigation equipment."
McNabb recalled that some Navy "old timers" did not particularly like having a woman at work on the sensitive equipment, and that made her job hard at times. Her supervisor, a chief petty officer, encouraged her not to argue but to return to the shop and let him know if she was hindered from doing her work.
"He would talk to the submarine captain, and the next thing you know, I would be working again. I have always remembered the way that he worked with people and how he always treated people fairly. He had high expectations, and he didn’t allow people to slack off," McNabb said. "We all worked hard to get the job done. It didn’t matter if we were the newest recruit or ready to retire."
Through her military experience, she had opportunities to visit 46 states and to see and experience the world from a sailor's unique perspective. After her discharge, she enrolled at Idaho State University, receiving a degree in information technology.
Life at sea was a good fit for McNabb. "I loved being out there where you cannot see land. We didn’t get to any exotic locations, but I just loved being out there watching the dolphins and seeing other ships," she said. "Some of the friends I made in the military are some of the best friends I will ever have. If I called them up today and said that I needed help, they would be the first ones to be there, even if I haven’t seen them in 25 years."
She also caught the travel bug. When she retires from her civilian job, she said, her dream is to travel to the exotic locales she has never seen.
Military service today is much different, she said. "The military men and women are definitely in harm's way, so that is something that should weigh heavily in a decision to join the military. Aside from that, I would advise young people to be open to new experiences and new adventures. Take advantage of the opportunities available, and don’t limit yourself to only what you are familiar with. Go out and make memories that will last a lifetime."