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Making an Impact: Amber Reynolds-Jackson

March 11, 2014
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Courtesy: Texas A&M Athletics
(photo: Texas A&M Athletics)

Check out the latest in our feature series, "Making an Impact".

Each week we'll look at a moment, personality, organization or tradition that makes Texas A&M Athletics and those support it and compete for it so special.

MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Former A&M soccer star Reynolds-Jackson continues
rise in Air Force ranks while dreaming of Aggieland flight

by Rusty Burson
12th Man Magazine

Texas A&M soccer coach G. Guerrieri vividly recalls the day that Amber Reynolds came to him and unexpectedly announced that she was going to transfer. At the time, Reynolds had just completed her second season at A&M and everything appeared to be going extremely well.

Exceedingly well, as a matter of fact.

Reynolds, who arrived at A&M in 1997 as a non-scholarship player, had quickly emerged as a key component of the Aggies’ burgeoning soccer program. She had become a soft-spoken leader in the locker room and developed a fearless reputation on the pitch. And in the classroom, the aerospace engineering major was more than making the grade.

With everything going so well, Guerrieri was rather stunned when Reynolds delivered her news.

“She came in and told me, ‘I’ve had a great time here, I love A&M, and I’ve enjoyed everything, but I think I’m going to have to transfer,’” Guerrieri recalled of his conversation with Reynolds. “I was like, ‘Why? What did we do?’ She said that we had done nothing wrong, but that she had always wanted to be a pilot. She said that she believed she needed to transfer to the Air Force Academy to make those dreams come true,

"I love being in the Air Force and serving my country. It’s like being part of a much bigger family, kind of like I felt when I was part of the A&M soccer family."

“I just told her, ‘Wait a minute, Amber. Do you realize how many pilots A&M produces?’ I didn’t know all of the specifics at the time, but I knew we could work something out with the Corps of Cadets. I also knew it could make for a great story.”

Indeed, it was a great collegiate story, as Reynolds joined the Corps and then helped to lead the Aggies to back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament in 1999 and 2000. She also won the team’s Defensive MVP award as a senior and was honored with the Distinguished Student Letterman Award—given annually to one female and one male student-athlete—in 2001.

And the story just kept improving after Reynolds completed her final season in Aggieland.

She was drafted by the San Jose CyberRays of the Women’s United Soccer Association, where she played professionally for six months and then graduated from A&M in the summer of ’02.

She graduated from pilot training in 2004, earning the Distinguished Graduate Award, the Commander’s Trophy and the Academic Excellence Award in the process. She flew C-21 leer jets while stationed at Germany’s Ramstein Air Force Base, transporting American government dignitaries such as Senator John McCain.

Reynolds then was stationed at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina, where she piloted C-17s. Currently, she and her husband are stationed at Andersen Air Force Base, where she is part of the 36th Mobility Response Squadron in Guam, an unincorporated territory of the United States in the western Pacific Ocean. She’s in a non-flying assignment now, which has allowed her to start a family. She and her husband have two children, a boy who is 2 ½ and five-month-old daughter.

“This is a temporary position, and I essentially chose to come out here to do this so we could start our family,” Reynolds-Jackson said. “I am scheduled to leave here in September, and at that time, we will have spent three years in Guam and I will have been in the Air Force for 12 years.

“My blood is starting to turn Air Force blue. This is turning into a career, not just a job anymore. I love being in the Air Force and serving my country. It’s like being part of a much bigger family, kind of like I felt when I was part of the A&M soccer family. I am looking forward to finding out about my next assignment and flying again. I am preparing to stay in the Air Force for the long haul, but there are a lot of military cuts going on, so you just never know. One thing I would love to do one day is to be a pilot for a flyover at Kyle Field on game day. That would be a great thrill for me, and it is certainly one of my goals.”

"I owe what I am today to my parents because they sacrificed a lot while I was growing up to provide my brother and me with every opportunity to succeed. They’re awesome, and I love them."

From becoming a captain on the Aggie soccer team to her current rank as a Major in the Air Force, Reynolds-Jackson has certainly proven that there is no mountain or obstacle too tall for her to scale in accomplishing her goals.

The humble, understated Reynolds doesn’t believe she has done anything out of the ordinary in becoming a pilot in the Air Force. But she does say that the fierce competitive nature that she consistently displayed on the soccer pitch has helped her thrive in a military field that is so dominated by males.

In her squadron when she was stationed in Germany, there were only two female pilots and 48 males.

“I was definitely surrounded be a lot of testosterone at that point,” Reynolds-Jackson recalled. “But I have a brother, and I had male roommates in college, so I wasn’t oblivious to their sense of humor or the way they think. Plus, being an athlete makes you naturally competitive. I looked at (pilot training) as another competition in my life, and I’ve always embraced challenges.

“I am confident in what I think I can achieve and realistic about what I want to achieve. From the beginning, my parents taught me to prove what I can do, not to just talk about it. For example, I grew up playing soccer in (Independence) Missouri, and I went to Texas A&M without a scholarship, (competing against) some of the best soccer players from Texas and around the country. So, I’ve always felt a little bit like the underdog, but knew I could make it if I was given the chance. You have to have confidence in order to prove who you are.”

Reynolds arrived at A&M in 1997 with little more than her confidence. She had planned to go to the Naval Academy, but received a flyer from Texas A&M fairly late in the recruiting process and decided to make a visit to Aggieland.

When she made the trip to College Station, she immediately fell in love with Texas A&M. She went to a volleyball game and was completely enamored with the spirit of the students, the yell leaders, the traditions and the overall atmosphere of the campus.

But there was one small problem. Guerrieri had already awarded his scholarships for the 1997 season, meaning that Reynolds—if she chose to attend Texas A&M—would have to do so as a walk-on.

“Coach G told me he was really sorry, but that they didn’t have any scholarships left to offer,” Reynolds-Jackson said. “But he also said he would love for me to come down, that I would have a spot on our team, even though he couldn’t give me any scholarship money that first year.

"Being part of A&M, the great traditions of the university and the soccer program were all wonderful experiences...being an Aggie helped to shape me into the person I am today."

“Fortunately, my parents were willing to make the sacrifices necessary for me to come to A&M. I owe what I am today to my parents because they sacrificed a lot while I was growing up to provide my brother and me with every opportunity to succeed. They’re awesome, and I love them.”

Reynolds made the most of her opportunity, lettering as a freshman, earning a scholarship and starting as an outside midfielder as a sophomore. But as well as things were going for her on the field and off, she didn’t believe she was on the right track for her career objective as a pilot.

The meeting with Guerrieri changed all that.

Reynolds joined the Corps of Cadets and was placed in the V-1 outfit, an off-campus unit that caters to married students, students with prior military service and those with other special circumstances, such as full-time jobs. With her time demands as a soccer player, it was the perfect place for Reynolds.

At her first physical fitness test as a member of V-1, Reynolds did 66 push-ups and 93 sit-ups in two-minute sessions. She also ran a two-mile race in just over 14 minutes. Her overall fitness numbers ranked her first in her outfit.

Membership in the Corps of Cadets provided further scholarship money for Reynolds and a direct route into military service. It also required some serious juggling in terms of time management.

It was not uncommon for Reynolds to be up at 5:30 a.m. for formation on the Quad. After physical conditioning exercises or marching drills, she was off to her engineering classes and then went on to soccer practices in the afternoon. And after practice, it was back to the books.

“I had a lot of help from good friends,” Reynolds-Jackson said of her time demands, especially in terms of her degree plan. “That was where the Corps was really helpful. I was in school for two years before I joined, but once I joined they were super nice and very accommodating to my schedule. They knew that soccer always came first because I was gone almost every other weekend and then on game days and days prior to games, they wouldn’t make me get up early and go to the morning call.

“It was a juggle, but in looking back, I had super good friends who worked with me and helped me every step of the way. Even when I went and played professional soccer, I was able to come back and take my tests. My friends were unbelievable; they would stay up several hours with me to study to make sure I passed my tests. I had really good friends in the academic realm that I owe so much to.”

"I haven’t been to College Station in quite a while, but maybe that will happen in the near future and I’ll get that chance to do a Kyle Field flyover."

Reynolds graduated in the summer of 2002 and first went to Hurlburt Air Force Base in Pensacola, Fla. From there, she went to a Navy pilot training program—also in Pensacola—where she met her future husband. She then went to Vance AFB in Enid, Okla. for her Air Force pilot training.

Her original goal was to become a fighter pilot, but she came up just short of achieving that target. In hindsight, she says that was probably a blessing.

“I was almost there (qualifying to be a fighter pilot), and I thought that’s what I really wanted, but now it’s a blessing in disguise,” she said. “Fighter pilots have a little bit different mentality, which doesn’t mesh with mine. And with all the unrest in the world today, it’s probably for the best that I am not a fighter pilot.”

Her worldwide travels, military duties and motherhood responsibilities have prevented her from returning to Aggieland for many years. But she says she still follows A&M athletics as much as possible and is still proud to represent A&M while serving her country.

“I have no regrets at all regarding my decision many years ago to walk-on at Texas A&M,” Reynolds-Jackson said. “Being part of A&M, the great traditions of the university and the soccer program were all wonderful experiences. I still think about (Guerrieri) and (assistant coach Phil) Stephenson all the time and how being an Aggie helped to shape me into the person I am today.

“Texas A&M was a great part of my life. I keep up with A&M through email updates from (assistant athletic director for the Lettermen’s Association) Cathy Capps and just what I read on the Internet. And, of course, I hear about Johnny Manziel all over the world. I haven’t been to College Station in quite a while, but maybe that will happen in the near future and I’ll get that chance to do a Kyle Field flyover.”


Follow the 12th Man Foundation on Twitter @12thManFndtn and Rusty Burson @12thManRusty




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