By Taylor Harrington 2/8/2021 10:00pm ET
My parents never put a limit on me. They never told me, “You can do this but you can’t go any further because you’re a girl, or because you’re from Athens.”
About a year ago I got onto Ancestry.com and I ran my DNA. I’ve always been interested in that, and I kid you not, I found out that I am related to Pocahontas. Her father had multiple daughters and Pocahontas, that’s not her real name, married my ancestor. I’m like, “Okay, this isn’t true.” So I look at it again, and I’m looking at it from 14 different angles, and I’m like, “Oh my god, I’m related Pocahontas.” There’s so much American Indian in me. It doesn’t show because I’ve got bright blue eyes and blondish hair, but the sense of nature, the warrior and the gardener, the baker and the creator, the mother, and all of these other little things. I’m like, wow, this totally, totally makes sense.
Jennifer McClain-Eskey is a woman of many hats, to say the least.
Jenn is a mom of five, a veteran who served in the military (including deployments to Iraq), she opened her own business, she is a Court Order Compliance Officer, and she is a firefighter. There are not many things that Jenn can’t do.
Someone asked me the other day, “What have you not done?” and I’m like, “I’ve never been a waitress. I’ve been a bartender, but I’ve never been a waitress. Or a doctor. Or a nurse. I feel that I am like the saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none” in that I wear my Mom hat, my business owner hat, and I wear my daughter hat because, you know, Mom and Dad are my neighbors.
Whether she was watching an Alexander High School football game on a Friday night, or cruising up and down Court Street, growing up in the small Appalachian town of Athens, Ohio, shaped the way that Jenn would live her life. There is such a sense of pride and community here, and Jenn has taken that with her everywhere else that her journey has lead her.
I met you in what was it, 2008?
It would have been the end of 2009, because that’s when I came back from Iraq and that’s when I worked at Stages Early Learning Center with you.
Did you go into the military directly after High School?
I was actually given a scholarship to go to college for Culinary Arts. So I spent one quarter in college, but because I grew up with a pastry chef as a mom and was always around a bunch of people that knew how to cook growing up I got really bored. So I asked myself, what’s something I could do that would be exciting? So I joined the military. Oh, but I didn’t tell anyone that I joined the military. I didn’t tell my sister. I didn’t tell my parents. No one knew until the day before I was to ship off to basic training when I asked Mom for a ride to Columbus. She said, “Oh, do you have an appointment or something?” I joined the army.
I can’t believe she forgave you for springing that on her!
My Dad was in the military and my stepbrother was in the military. My Grandfather stormed the beaches of Normandy, got him a purpleheart. There’s a long line of military people in my family, so it’s not like it was something unheard of for the family, I was just the first female to do it. So I don’t necessarily think she was mad. It was more like, Why didn’t you just tell us? This isn’t something to be embarrassed about but I just thought that maybe if I told them they would try to talk me out of it and I knew I needed to go away. I needed to get away and experience more than just Athens. So yeah, in 1999, one year after graduating high school, I went to basic training in South Carolina at Fort Jackson, and then I went to Fort Lee, Virginia for my Advanced Individual Training as a 92 G, which is a cook. I graduated AIT on 9/9 of ’99 at 9 am. So then, I started my military journey, which originally was with the guard, and I spent 12 years in the National Guard, two deployments to Iraq, which was the second. The first deployment was in 2003 and the original orders were that my unit was to invade Iraq through Turkey. Everything didn’t happen the way it was supposed to and our orders changed so instead of going to Iraq the unit went to D.C. to protect the Pentagon.
We were the 2-174th Air Defense Artillery based out of McConnelsville. I spent six years there and then I transferred to the 1-37th Air Assault. So I went from air defense to air assault. I went from a unit that was shooting stuff down out of the sky to a unit that was in the sky shooting stuff. My second deployment was to Iraq and I did see a lot of stuff that, you know, normal people don’t get to see and experience and whatnot. So that was a crazy time.
Jayce was just a year old and I thought I was out of the military. I had turned in all of my gear, I’d signed paperwork, and I hadn’t gone to drill for months, and all of a sudden I received paperwork that says I was called up and I’m like, No, I’m not. I’m out. I call the unit and I’m like, Hey, guys. So you know, a few months ago, I turned in all my stuff and signed the paperwork. What’s this? and they’re like, “Oh, oops, your paperwork didn’t get processed properly. You’re actually still in, and you’re going to Iraq.”
We went to Kuwait first to get acclimated to the region, but once we got over there I got sick so I was kind of down for the count for a little while. Then I was on Advanced Team, meaning that I, me and few others, went to Iraq before everyone else to kind of get everything situated whatnot, because our unit was getting ready to take over the dining facility at JBB Balad (Joint Base Balad), which is Northwest of Baghdad. We get to JBB Balad and the day that we arrived, there’s an explosion, and we were really lucky that no U.S. soldiers were killed, but there were people who died.
Now it takes every ounce of my being to keep my mouth shut when someone complains about just simply putting on a mask to protect someone else. Alright, cool, I’ll go halfway around the world and be bombed every day so that I can protect you, but you can’t put on a layer of fabric. It’s frustrating, but you know, I will do what I need to do to protect my loved ones and everyone else.
You’re one of the toughest people I know.
People who are mentally tough, or who are portrayed to be mentally tough, a lot of times find it difficult asking for help. That has been my downfall; trying to take on too much and not telling people “No”, you know? It’s taken me quite a few years to realize that there is definitely a line. Yes, I can go do this, physically, but should I? I have found that through my job as a Veterans Court Coordinator, that I am helping other veterans define that line. Where’s the line of “Yes, I can but, should I?” and it’s difficult. It’s difficult because when you’ve been through things, and the stuff that I went through in Iraq is piddly compared to what some others have gone through, but what some of them have seen and experienced and now relive every day, it’s crazy.
Mom would like to say that I am an expert B.S.-er. I could sell snow to an Eskimo. I know who my audience is and I communicate with that audience. Regardless of who’s in front of me, if it’s a veteran, I know how I’m going to talk. If it’s a kid, I know how to talk. Whether it is a teacher or if it’s a doctor, it doesn’t matter. I feel that you have to communicate with the person who is in front of you. You can’t talk to a 10-year-old the same as an 18-year-old, right? You can’t talk to combat the same you would speak to a random neighbor. Communication is just huge and there are little things like meeting some of the guys for the first time and using some of the terminologies that only military people get, that helps build rapport like, “Alright, okay, maybe she gets it. I’ll talk to her.”
You’re also a firefighter for Waterloo Township, right?
Yeah. Someone asked me the other day, “What have you not done?” and I’m like, “I’ve never been a waitress. I’ve been a bartender, but I’ve never been a waitress. Or a doctor. Or a nurse. I feel like I am just like that saying “Jack of all trades, master of none”. I wear my “Mom” hat, I wear my “business owner” hat, and I wear my “daughter” hat because, you know, Mom and Dad are my neighbors.
I know you come from a really big phenomenal family, can you tell me about them?
Josh (my husband) has a really big family but he doesn’t really talk a lot about it. His uncle invented the carpeting that is in movie theaters. Yep, all of the curtains and the carpeting that is in every movie theater, he invented that. So there’s that and then of course his Grandpa, Don Eskey, being the winningest coach in Athens High School Football’s history. One of the end zones at Athens field is the “Eskey Endzone”.
Speaking of family, about a year ago I got onto Ancestry and I ran my DNA. I’ve always been interested in that, and I found out that I am related to Pocahontas, I kid you not. Her father had multiple daughters and Pocahontas, that’s not her real name, married my ancestor. I’m like, Okay, this isn’t true. So I look at it again, and I’m looking at it from 14 different angles, and I’m like, Oh my god, I’m related Pocahontas. There’s so much American Indian in me. It doesn’t show because I’ve got bright blue eyes and blondish hair, but the sense of nature, and the warrior and the gardener, the baker and the creator, the mother, and all of these little things. I’m like, wow, this totally, totally makes sense.
I was also able to track my Grandmother’s lineage back until the 1200s and looking at it they were some kind of royalty in France. So like, where’s my money?
We’ll go on a treasure hunt one day.
My parents never put a limit on me. They never told us, “Here, you can do this but you can’t go any further because you’re a girl, or because you’re from Athens.” They never put that limit on me and so I think growing up that taught me that if I saw something, like being a firefighter, you know what? I’m gonna do that. Joining the military? I’m gonna do that. Be in law enforcement? I’m going to do that. Open up a bakery? I did that. I think that as long as you’re true to yourself and don’t put a limit on yourself and are continually striving to gain more knowledge and grow, then you can do it all. People that say “I’ve been in this profession for 20 years, so I know it all”, no, you don’t. Everything changes and it could be a change from day to day or month to month. 2020 showed us that things change. We’re sitting here having an interview via zoom when you only live three miles away from me.
My 2021 is all about looking for the silver lining because otherwise we would all be depressed all the time. There’s beauty in everything and we’ve got to start sharing it with each other.
Yeah, staying positive in 2021. It’s really a challenge, but we’re doing perfectly and the more that I can do to be happy and to omit happiness, I’ll do. Here’s another thing that drives me crazy about masks is that no one can see me smile, and I’m constantly smiling at people.