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Jackson in action for military families

On the weekend of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' bye, wide receiver Vincent Jackson threw a baby shower.Actually, it was 40 baby showers all at once. Strollers, car seats and whatever else you can imagine. It was all there. The gift basket given to each of the mothers contained more than $1,000 in merchandise.

Then, with Veterans Day quickly approaching, Jackson used his day off Monday to unveil a remodeled house for one lucky family.

It's all part of Jackson In Action 83, the foundation the Bucs star started in 2012 to help military families. Besides the baby shower and home makeover, Jackson also hosts a summer camp, a reading program, tours of One Buccaneer Place (the Buccaneers' team headquarters) and visits to the Glazer Children's Museum. Jackson aims for seven to 10 events per year. He also provides tickets for 25 military personnel and their families for every Tampa Bay home game.

"It doesn't stop,'' Jackson said. "A lot of guys, they have a golf tournament and raise some funds and that's their event for the year. We're a functioning body that is constantly in contact with MacDill Air Force Base. I'm over there all the time, talking to families and talking to military personnel and asking what else we can do. It's a very diligent foundation.''

It's diligent because military families are very important to Jackson. He came from one. His father, Terence, and mother, Sherry, were both in the military when they first met. Jackson's father spent a 21-year career in the military.

Growing up, Jackson lived in Louisiana, Arizona, Germany and Colorado.

"It wasn't as bad as most military families,'' Jackson said. "Sometimes there are many more moves than that. Changing schools growing up is a challenge. You've got to make new friends, sometimes you've got to catch up on school work and the curriculum is a little different. For me, I think it was just a blessing because it really gave me some tools to deal with adversity and new environments and that's helped me with football.

"I didn't know back then that I'd be doing what I'm doing now, but you have to deal with new faces all the time, regime changes and new things. You learn to adjust on the fly. That's what I think the strength of a military family is. You've got to be adaptable and versatile and you have to stick together because a lot of times you're going different places by yourself.''

And a lot of time, families aren't together. Deployments are a big part of military life. Jackson has made dealing with deployment one of the main focuses of his foundation.

Jackson dealt with separation as a youth, as his father, Terence, was twice deployed in the military.
"We focus a little more on the families -- the moms and the kids -- and with deployment,'' Jackson said. "When Mom or Dad, whoever is deployed, comes back, we want to keep that family structure intact. There are a lot of things people don't talk about as far as high divorce rates, suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder. We really want to find ways to bridge that gap, especially dealing with deployments, making soldiers feel like they still have a piece of home and how we can keep their family structure tight. Just give them the support they need."

Jackson has first-hand experience with deployment. While he was growing up, Jackson's father was deployed twice.

"That was tough," Jackson said. "We missed him dearly. It's scary to know you've got a parent that's out there in the line of fire and you see everything on the news and the chaos going on. It's definitely tough. It makes you have so much more respect and appreciation for things most people take for granted -- like having a mom and dad at home and having them safe."

Helping children deal with deployment is one of Jackson's top priorities. That's why he and his wife, Lindsey, wrote a children's book titled: "Danny Dogtags: Dealing with Deployment." Jackson said the book is not an autobiography, but is based on some actual events in his life.

It's the story of a boy whose father is about to be deployed. By chance, the boy meets a Buccaneers player, who came from a military background and dealt with his father's extended absence while serving. The player gives the boy some tips for handling deployment and also invites him to serve as an honorary captain at a Buccaneers game.

"Writing the book was fun," Jackson said. "It was really cool. It was just something that we thought was a great way to deal with deployment issues. It's hard to sit down with a 5- or 6-year old and say, 'Hey, Dad's going to be gone for six or eight months.' How do you make that into a conversational piece? We wanted to make it fun. We tied in real-life things. The story is not about me. But it's based on a military family that was kind of similar to what my family went through."

Jackson has been out of the military lifestyle for many years now, but he keeps giving back because of the impact it had on his life.

"I've always had a passion for working with the military because of my family background,'' Jackson said. "It's near and dear to my heart. I understand what these families go through.'

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Neil S. Schwartz

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Jonathan Feinsod

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