Jessica Robertson, 28, grew up in Fredericksburg, the child of two parents who served in the Air Force. She was inspired by their service. As a programs manager for the USO Warrior and Family Programs team, she dedicates herself to making sure the troops and their families feel cared for and supported. Jessica took time out of her busy schedule to chat with us about her work and Jewish identity.
Are there any particular programs that you really enjoy working on or think are particularly beneficial to the soldiers, veterans and military families that you work with?
We have a wide variety of programs that are available, and I think all of them serve a unique and individual purpose. One of the programs I work on, in particular, which is really close to my heart, because it’s one that I helped to start, is our Tiny Tots program, which provides just a little bit of goodness to new moms when they are having babies and their partner is not around, particularly when they’re separated by deployment or just in general there’s a separation requiring them to not be in the same place. We enable the service member to send a gift back home to their loved one and their new baby.
The military was part of your life growing up. What about Judaism and Jewish culture? Were those part of your upbringing?
Very much so. I grew up in Fredericksburg, which you don’t really think of as a Jewish hot spot. It’s a small kind of Jewish community, but actually kind of on the up, I think. My parents still are very involved in our synagogue down there…My parents made sure we went to Sunday school and Hebrew school and had b’nai mitzvah. But when I was in, I guess, right around my bat mitzvah, I found out about this opportunity. They were opening [American Hebrew Academy] in Greensboro, N.C…It’s basically a collegiate prep school for Jewish youth from around the world, and I applied to the school. Its opening day was Sept.10, 2001, and I was actually part of the founding class of the school…So coming from Fredericksburg to Greensboro, N.C., of all places, was kind of one of the neatest experiences ever, because I was able to go to school with 77 other Jewish kids who were just like me, as opposed to coming from Fredericksburg where I was, like, the only Jewish kid in my school.
Does your Jewish identity or background play any role in your work?
The call to service and knowing that serving others is important, is really kind of the only overlay between my Jewish morals and the work I do…I guess that the driving force for me is knowing that these are the right things to do. And taking care of others is something that’s hugely important to me, and I think to the Jewish community in general.
Is there a little Bob Hope in you?
One of the core values of the USO is mission first and I don’t believe anyone can work here without a little of the Bob Hope spirit in them. I look forward to going to work every day because I know the work we do matters and makes an impact. The USO creates about 30,000 moments a day for our troops and their families around the world – from a hot cup of coffee at a center in Afghanistan to a quiet place to rest in the airport during a delay to providing relationship seminars and transition assistance to troops and their families. Even the little moments make a difference, and so knowing that my efforts make that possible is really the driving force for me every day. My friends know that I enjoy Instagramming the moments in my life, and I am lucky that I can truly write #IHaveARewardingJob when I post about work.
Unlike my parents and older brother, I didn’t join the military, but still feel a call to serve this great nation. I want to make a difference in the world and knowing that I can by serving others in this way is truly a blessing and an honor.