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Remembering LTC Jacqueline Escobar, a trailblazer who shattered kevlar ceilings

Jessica Manfre Avatar

Raised primarily by her mother and as an only child, Army Lieutenant Colonel Jacqueline “Jackie” Escobar spent her life pursuing things against the odds. She lived vivaciously, every single day. 

“We were married for 18 years; I appreciated that her mother raised her to be strong and independent. Jackie was super feminine yet also tough as nails,” her husband David Escobar, Army Lieutenant Colonel (ret.) recalled. “She would ride horses until the horse bucked her off. Then she would get right back on. She also did martial arts, and shot top scorer with the air rifle in the Junior ROTC. But then Jackie also did ballet, modeling and acting.”

Though she never met her maternal grandfather, he enlisted during World War II. By the end of the war they’d battlefield commissioned him into an officer. When troops were taking over Germany, he was General Patton’s youngest Battalion commander. Between the family history and her JROTC instructor encouraging her to join, the path was laid. The couple met at the United States Military Academy at West Point, when he was a sophomore and she was a freshman. 

“Well, technically, we had chemistry class together. Okay, we literally had chemistry together,” David smiled.

After the two began spending time together as members of the martial arts team and a dance before a match led to more conversations. The two were officially dating before long. After graduation he was stationed at Fort Cavazos (formerly Fort Hood) and proposed. Jackie graduated from the academy in 2002 and they were married a year later. 

“We deployed a few months after our wedding to Iraq for 12 months,” David shared.

The two were sent back to Iraq again in 2007.

“Once that was finished, we had to make a decision; and she wanted to go back to West Point to teach. I wanted no part of going back to that place but of course, that’s where we went,” he laughed. 

Jackie was a professor of American Politics and her husband taught Literature. Teaching and mentoring cadets proved a special highlight of their time in the Army. In graduate school and then with teaching, Jackie began to make waves for women in the military. “Some of her female cadets petitioned to start a women’s boxing team, but there was some… pushback on this previously all-male boxing institution. So, Jackie also pushed and used her influence to make the women’s team happen. While in graduate school at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, she wrote a paper on ‘Breaking the Kevlar Ceiling’ and it won an Army Command & General Staff College award,” David shared. “Her work was instrumental in capturing the essence and reason for overturning the combat exclusion policy. She already had a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars when she wrote it and the rule was still in place.”

The two did another combat tour to Afghanistan for nine months after teaching then made their way back to Fort Cavazos and even did a year stint in South Korea. Upon their return stateside, she was chosen as the Aide-de-Camp for a three-star general in D.C. In 2019, she was selected for her “dream” job as the Commander of the 3rd Brigade Support Battalion in Fort Stewart, while David took command of the Hunter Army Airfield Garrison.

“I had been traveling a lot for work, and when I came home she told me she was having headaches and nausea. When I asked what her doctor said, she told me she was just pulling over while driving when the nausea got too bad. The tumor was growing, and she didn’t even know it because she was so focused on not failing her soldiers,” David said.

While waiting for an MRI, Jackie’s family just brought her to an emergency room in Savannah. A CAT Scan found the tumor, and they rushed her into surgery to remove it which saved her life.

During surgery, doctors diagnosed Jackie with glioblastoma (GBM), a terminal brain cancer.

“This was around Christmas time and although the area was great they didn’t have neuro-oncologists like she needed. I did some research and found that MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston was the best,” David said. “We couldn’t fly due to the pressure so I drove her down for the secondary consultation. It was early 2020.”

Throughout all of this Jackie fought to hold onto command and felt like she was letting her soldiers down, who were preparing for an upcoming deployment to South Korea. 

“I think giving that up was more upsetting than the diagnosis. I tried teleworking for awhile but eventually had to make a call. They gave me a compassionate reassignment to recruiting,” he said. 

Jackie fought for 22 months through numerous treatments, clinical trials and a second brain surgery, but there came a point where there was nothing more that could be done to prolong her life. The couple purchased a home on Galveston Bay and they’d kayak and walk the dogs along the shore, until Jackie couldn’t walk any longer.

“Towards the end she really loved watching fox videos and they made her laugh. She loved people and animals very much. Unfortunately, this disease makes your brain deteriorate fast, which is why her body shut down so quickly,” David recalled. “I try to think of it as growing old together very quickly. I was trying to be grateful that I could still carry her from room to room, because if I was an old man when this happened, I wouldn’t be able to do that.”

August 17, 2021: Jackie left this earth, taken by a cancer linked to burn pits and radar exposure, something she experienced during her multiple deployments. 

“I just laid in bed with her alongside our two dogs and she passed away peacefully. Afterwards I had to step outside to just cry and look at the ocean. We believe in God, Heaven, and were both active at our church,” David explained. “All of a sudden, I was watching thousands of mullet jumping; it felt like a sign that she was finally at peace.”

Three years later, he remarried and is living in D.C. and retired from the Army. These days he uses his voice to advocate for military members and veterans. His work in the Pentagon and with the legislative branch showed him where real change happens in the military, through congressional policy. “Jackie worried constantly about the people she’d leave behind, so on Memorial Day, go to your local VFW or American Legion and ask veterans about their fallen buddies. That’s what this day is for,” David said. “Sit down and help people do that. The other thing I’d ask is to recognize that asking for help isn’t a weakness. Take care of yourselves.”

Jessica Manfre is an author and freelance writer for multiple publications. She is a licensed social worker, earning her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Central Florida in 2020. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Northwestern State University. Jessica is the co-founder and CFO of Inspire Up, a 501c3 nonprofit promoting global generosity and kindness through education, empowerment and community building. She is the spouse of an active duty Coast Guardsman and mother of two. When she isn't working, you can find her reading a good book and drinking too much coffee.