The Student Government Organization (SGO) at the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts is usually bustling around Veteran’s Day to organize a program to recognize those serving in the military on Nov. 11. When the school decided to go virtual for its Fall semester, everyone knew things would be a bit different.
LSMSA’s Veterans Day Ceremony began in 1986 by then-executive director Dr. Richard Brown, who served in the National Guard. These ceremonies offer a way for the student body to acknowledge military men and women and their families for their service to the United States.
A member of the class of 1995 and the current LSMSA Alumni Association Treasurer, Jennifer Herron, didn’t know she was destined for the Air Force when she was a student at the school. After meeting a USAF Academy recruiter while home for Christmas, Jennifer went to Southern Miss with plans to apply to the Academy for Fall 1996. After her first semester, she was awarded a 3-year scholarship and decided to stay for 4 years, or as long as she was “having fun.”
Twenty one years later and Jennifer just returned home after a year long deployment to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait in support of the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR).
The DOD established CJTF-OIR in 2014 to formalize ongoing military actions against the rising threat posed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The joint task force consists of all DOD military branches as well as over 60 coalition partners. While assigned, Jennifer was Deputy Chief, Internal Review and External Audits. Her office was responsible for ensuring requests for information during audits and evaluations by the DOD Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office were answered in a complete and timely manner. They ensured the Lead Inspector Generals for Overseas Contingency Operations was able to meet their legally mandated requirement of providing quarterly updates on CJTF-OIR missions to Congress and the American tax payers.
“I’m glad I went,” said Jennifer. “It was an experience unlike anything else I’ve had in my past 21yrs of service.”
Important in a different way, LSMSA has had a lasting impact on the hundreds of students that walk through its halls.
“My time at LSMSA irrevocably shaped me,” said Jennifer. “I learned about my own learning strengths/weaknesses and how to mitigate those weaknesses, as well as time management. Most importantly, I developed a love and respect for those of different perspectives.”
Jennifer added that she is humbled to be honored on Veteran’s Day amongst some of the nation’s finest heroes, who have done and given so much to this nation.
“I’ve enjoyed my time in the USAF and am grateful for the opportunity to serve my country,” she said.
Jennifer’s work while she was deployed was tedious and very detail-oriented, but she enjoyed ensuring they recognized the work of the joint and coalition partners in ensuring the enduring defeat of Da’esh.
In late 2019, she was able to visit the Grand Mosque, the Scientific Center and the Kuwaiti Towers. After COVID, many Saturday nights were spent having dinner brought in from off-base and playing Dominos or Spades. Due to COVID, most extracurriculars on the base were closed, including the gym. Jennifer got into biking and would often bike 20 or so miles per week. It’s on her to-do list to get a bike Stateside and continue riding.
“During this time of COVID uncertainty, we are all learning about resiliency,” Jennifer said. “I wish our current students could have the full LSMSA experience, complete with walks around Natchitoches and life in the residence halls. But, their safety is, of course, the highest priority. I encourage them to keep pressing forward and reach out, if there’s anything they need. I know the faculty/staff care about these students 100% and are willing to do anything/everything to assist in any way.”
The LSMSA community rallied behind Jennifer while she was deployed, sending her care packages – from shipments of coffee with chicory, to a waffle maker for her office, to a butterfly kite, to LSMSA swag, to shirts for biking.
Jennifer’s home underwent construction while she was gone and also suffered from an AC water leak.
“If it weren’t for LSMSA alums, I would have been a lot more stressed about issues at my house while I was gone,” Jennifer shared. “LSMSA alums ensured my house was put back together before I returned, handled the items damaged from the AC leak and also worked with ServPro to get the damaged areas dried out.”
It was a coordinated effort by many Alums, but Jennifer wanted to give a shout out to Salinda (Russell) Barnard (‘94), Alison (Simoneaux) Krepak (‘92) and Paul Carter (‘91).
“I am inspired by others who also find ways to give back to LSMSA, their communities, and country,” said Jennifer. “There’s a sense of belonging that comes from giving back and I encourage everyone to find ways to give back to others, whether that be the LSMSA family, their local/state communities or their country. When we share our time, energy and resources with others, the results are far greater than we can imagine.”
Photo: A group of LSMSA Alum were ready to welcome Jennifer Herron home when she returned from her deployment. Pictured from left are Lauren Koons, Jessica Koons – ’94, Nolan Huguet – ’91, Herron – ’95, Rachel Stanley – ’88, and Alison Krepak – ’92.