Major Lisa A. Jaster: Army Ranger
For many of us, the psyche of the ultra-high achiever, the elevated standard of discipline which frames their lives, is nearly impossible to fathom. We may be impressively credentialed ourselves with successful careers, we stay relatively fit and take care of our health, and at times we rise above difficult challenges. But that’s not what we’re discussing here. This is a whole other level of commitment, something so rare that we more common folk are traversing foreign territory.
Why is a person this driven, this willing to push her body and mind well beyond what common willpower and human endurance typically allows? Why would any person voluntarily experience what the majority of us consider severe punishment akin to hell on earth? What motivates such a person’s actions and behaviors?We recently had the opportunity to meet one of these most extraordinary people, to dig in below the surface and find her core. Following is our briefing:
The Engineer & The Soldier
Some people are competitive, others are hyper-competitive, and then there’s Lisa Jaster. She is an engineer and a soldier. That’s the beginning of explaining her. There’s a meticulousness about being an engineer. That’s because every minute detail of their job, every fraction of an inch, could be the difference between success and failure, life and death, even. There’s a similar precision about being a soldier. That’s because every moment they spend on their mission could be their last, they literally exist on specks of sand bordering life and death.
Jaster graduated West Point with a BS and was commissioned as an ‘engineer officer’ at Fort Stewart, Georgia. During this same time period the infamous and heinous, 9-11, global terrorism war had arrived resoundingly on our shores.
As our president promised (via megaphone) while standing on the fuming rubble, ‘Operation Enduring Freedom 1’ began in 2002, followed a year later by ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom 1.’
During her seven years of active duty, Jaster became a world traveler. She was stationed in both Fort Stewart, Georgia and South Korea, deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, and in 2004, she earned her MS in Civil Engineering from Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, Missouri.
While deployed, engineers are often on the front lines building and securing troop barracks, roadways and bridges, and planning other complex logistical needs of the war’s strategy.
“The secondary mission of an engineer is to fight in the infantry,” says Major Jaster, and her courageous efforts in hazardous conditions earned her a ‘Bronze Star,’ a ‘Meritorious Service Medal,’ and several other awards and badges. Soon after 2007’s successful ‘surge’ had secured the fragile peace in Iraq, she left active duty.
A Brief Return to Civilian Life
Civilian life found Jaster flourishing with a career as a project engineer at Shell Oil in Houston, Texas, and raising a young family with her Marine Corps spouse, Lt. Col. Allan Jaster. She met her future husband while assigned to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.
In the meantime, she was staying hyper-fit by adhering to what we (flabby) pedestrians consider the most extreme sports challenges and exercise regimens yet conceived – marathons, ‘Ironman’ competitions, CrossFit, and in her spare time, Brazilian jiu jitsu. However, any one of these pain-inducing disciplines would be a walk in the park compared to what was looming just ahead.
While enjoying family life and her day job at Shell Oil, this high achiever had plenty left in the tank and missed the camaraderie and mission-oriented life of the military. In 2012, influenced by her husband’s commitment to the Marine Reserves, not to mention his constant nagging, she joined the Army Reserves as an ‘individual mobilization augmentee’ for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE).
In October 2014, the Army asked females to volunteer for a class that would test if women could handle the rigors of Ranger School, considered the Army’s premier leadership training. This was like handing Jaster a personal invitation,and without hesitation, she had accepted her latest challenge.
The Army’s Premier Leadership School –
In a March 2017 ‘Trailblazers’ article written by 1stLt. Ellen Brabo (on the US Army website), Jaster said, “You go to Ranger School because you want to be the best leader you could possibly be. It has to be your passion, you have to follow it and you have to be all in.”
Being “all in” was nothing new to the 37-year-old engineer and soldier, and with the urging and support of both her family and employer she joined a class of 400 enrollees, 19 of which were “trailblazing” women. The minimum time it takes to complete the multi-locational course (including punishing hikes through mountains, woods and swamps) is two months and the average graduate is 23 years of age. In October 2015, after six months of diet-restricted, sleep-deprived, twenty-hour days, Jaster joined 87 men on the podium as the first Army Reserve female to ever receive her Ranger School tab.
“If you want to push past barriers and be part of the small percentage of soldiers who wear the coveted Ranger Tab,” she said, “then you need to know your tactics, know yourself, and understand why you are pushing yourself so hard.”
In an August 2016 ‘Leadership’ article [available at lisajaster.net], Jaster explained why she was pushing so hard. “I just wanted the same opportunities that my male peers were given automatically. Going to Ranger School was an opportunity to build my repertoire and become the best possible version of me. I want to be someone who others look up to. I expect more and that means constantly being more and doing more. I want to be a good soldier, not a good female soldier.”
All the while, she was a good wife and mother as well, drawing her inspiration from dwelling on photos of her husband and two young children she kept close by.
“Someday this will be important to our two children,” she said. “I want them to know that their parents weren’t afraid to try hard and do more.” She continued, “it’s important to try to do hard things, but it’s also important to look at the big picture and see how you can add to society and maybe make the world a little bit better.”
Smart, Strong, Committed Leadership
We’ve come much closer to understanding the heart and core of Major Lisa A. Jaster and it can probably be summed up in a four word phrase – ‘Smart, Strong, Committed Leadership.’ When presented with any challenge, this dynamo jumps in, shows the way, and then says “follow me.” And if that’s not possible, she’s not unfamiliar with carrying you along with her.
Jaster is a passionate advocate for diversity, but not for diversities sake. Regarding the expanding role of women in the military, let’s “lean in” and listen directly to this inspirational leader in snippets drawn from her website:
“What I have discovered over the years is that people put the personalities and limitations of their mothers, sisters, and daughters on all women rather than looking at the capabilities of an individual woman.”
“Critics often worry about strength and stamina, comparing infantry units to professional sports teams. So let’s compare – successful football teams need a smart quarterback, fast receivers, strong linemen and talented special teams. Similarly, our war fighters need a diversity of skills to dominate all aspects of the battle space. As with every team, some members need to be smarter while others need to be stronger. But no one can be a physical liability.”
“At Ranger School, individuals are generally referred to as either “strong” or “smart.” A handful of exceptional soldiers are both, but most fit predominantly into one category or the other. I wasn’t the strongest Ranger, but I spent almost every morning helping plan the day’s mission. Did my intellect make me an asset to the team? I know a few guys who would say it did.”
“The fundamental fact is that brute strength is not the only, or even the most important, factor in a successful combat mission. Courage, ingenuity, strategic thinking, levelheadedness, marksmanship, and an ability to read people all factor into whether a unit succeeds or a mission goes south.”
“I strongly agree that we cannot let our standards fall or force quotas on our combat units. Yes, we will maintain physical standards, and some women will fail, but the ones who succeed will bring new strengths as well, making their units stronger and more agile.
“Finally, a word to those women interested in joining combat arms: Carry your load, meet or exceed the same standard as a man your size and be prepared for the possibility of failure. Above all, strive to be an asset to our forces daily and understand that your behavior will affect generations to come. Women don’t have to prove we are worthy of this opportunity, but we have to make sure that we don’t prove the naysayers right.”
A Committed Leader’s Lasting Impact
According to a Washington Post article written by Dan Lamothe and Juliet Eilperin (Jan. 2016), Jaster has been inspired by letters she’s received, especially from children. One 10-year-old boy wrote that he wanted to join the Army, and knew it was hard. But he wanted to be “cool” like Jaster.“I just thought, ‘Wow, being in the Army means you’re cool,’” she said. “That’s a wonderful opinion that I want to continue to support in our children because you lose that as you get older and get more polarized with what is going on in the world.”
In support of her latest mission, Jaster has developed a hashtag to promote the powerful message of encouraging everyone to “#deletetheadjective.” Instead of identifying as a female, male, white, black, gay or straight soldier, remove the adjective and simply identify as a soldier, or in civilian life, as a person. She’s calling for dropping the divisive identities.
“When I have an opportunity to speak to younger people, or anyone, I suddenly have a voice and a message. What I have found is the best way to get diversity is by getting the best possible teammates you can. That means looking at their actual resume, their competencies, their capabilities, and not the packaging.”
Because one of her mantras is “this is no such thing as quitting,” our educated guess is we haven’t heard the last of MAJ Lisa A. Jaster, and that’s a very good thing.
Whether she’s doing her meticulous engineering work, continuing to develop her equally impressive family, engaging in an uncommon physical workout, or out on the trail giving an emotional, inspirational speech, we need all the smart, strong, committed leaders we can get in our increasingly tremulous world. Because of her rare breed, we go to bed tonight a safer, stronger and greater America.