Airman overcomes abuse, walks new path
Story by SSgt David Owsianka on 09/12/2019
His face turned dark blue from a lack of oxygen as he lied underneath the water at the bottom of a bathtub. This was his time, his way out, his escape from all the pain. He was only eight years old.
Jordan only knew pain and suffering during his childhood. It was normal in Jordan’s young life to be physically and mentally abused by his stepfather while also being sexually abused by an older cousin. He thought about running away, dreamed of having a different life, but ultimately wanted an exit no matter the outcome.
“Why is this happening, why me, what can I do differently, did I say something wrong,” he remembers while he was in elementary school. “Those thoughts rooted itself in my mind, and I began to think about the ultimate escape.’ The only door I saw available to me at the time was to end my life.”
Jordan’s stepfather was an alcoholic, addicted to cocaine and crack, as well as being a member of the Latin Kings gang in Illinois. The stepfather also brought the “you will follow my way or else” type of mentality, that is typical of gang culture into their household.
Jordan did not successfully commit suicide as his aunt pulled him out of the water at the last moment, and is now a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant.
“It would have been devastating for my other children and me to have lost him at such a young age,” said Tanya Clark, Jordan’s mother.
Remembering the trauma
“I can’t describe my childhood very well because I don’t remember much about it aside from the trauma I went through,” said Staff Sgt. Jordan Stricklin, 7th Force Support Squadron airman leadership school instructor.
Stricklin’s mother divorced his stepfather, when he was about 11 years old. She and his grandfather sat Stricklin down and talked with him about what happened. He said “this is when the cracked door flung open bringing the trauma I went through in my past to light.”
As some of Stricklin’s childhood memories rushed back into his mind, he was able to distinctively recall some of the moments where he received physical and emotional torment.
“I would say and do things, at times, to entice my stepfather to physically or emotionally beat me instead of my two younger siblings,” Stricklin said. “I remember looking at my little brother and seeing this almost shell-shocked terror across his face and knowing that there wasn’t anything he could do.”
Stricklin and his older cousin, who was also a victim of severe sexual abuse, would play together at their grandparent’s house on occasion. His cousin convinced him certain inappropriate activities were normal play time activities since it was on TV.
“When we were caught doing these things, my grandparents tried to sweep it under the rug,” Stricklin said. “I didn’t understand why they reacted so harshly with yelling, separated us and said we couldn’t play together anymore.”
While Stricklin was in middle and high school, he struggled with his identity and discovering who he was as he struggled to overcame his past. His sexual identity was scarred by his violent youth. Stricklin also had angry outbursts and fits of rage as he punched holes in walls, ripped his bedroom door off its hinges and bullied other kids in school.
“I used anger to propel me forward and fought a lot as a kid,” Stricklin said.
Stricklin attended high school where the competitiveness and camaraderie of sports was a big outlet for him to defuse a lot of his anger.
Stricklin found a support system through sports as other people depended on him on the field. He was able to trust his coaches through their ability to care for him.
“Trust in older males was a hard thing for me because I never had much of that growing up,” Stricklin explained. “Having a coach that I knew had my best interest at heart and cared for me really helped me see that every adult male wasn’t out to get me. There was hope and opportunity for healing.”
While playing sports helped Stricklin grow, he continued to have inadequate feelings about life at home with his family throughout high school.
“I tried as much as I could to not be home because I felt my family’s lives were more stable and better off without me around,” Stricklin said. “My siblings and I didn’t have a good relationship as we grew up because I was so angry, mean, cruel and unforgiving. I was also trying to be my own man and find myself while away from home.”
The turning point
Stricklin took another emotional blow as he hit a low point in his life during his first semester of college. He planned a another unsuccessful attempt to end his life. He called his mom one last time as he vaguely insinuated that this was his final time talking to her.
“Even though I didn’t say it, the tone in my voice did,” he said. “She kept me on the phone until she could get to me while also calling my friends to ensure they stayed by my side.”
Part of the recovery process was for Stricklin to talk with his family to build an open dialogue and increase their communication.
“We didn’t have that honesty with each other, and that is what propelled us together as a family,” he said. “I told them that my life isn’t great right now, and I need all of you. That is when we really came together as a family.”
Becoming an Airman, father
Over the next two years Stricklin’s grandfather encouraged him to join the Air Force to give him a more stable future. During this time he met and married the love of his life, Amanda. It was coincidental with how he left for Basic Military Training since his recruiter contacted him the same day he was fired from a job and asked “how soon can you leave to join the Air Force?” With a child on the way, the answer was easy for them.
“My life up to that point was anything but routine,” he said. “I was bouncing around with work and school. I knew that I needed a steady paycheck and stability to take care of my family.”
While attending aircraft metals technology job training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, the Stricklin’s welcomed their first son into the world.
“That started the transition into where my priorities shifted away from the self-serving and self-centered mindset I used to have and became about my wife and child who needs me to provide for them any way I can,” Stricklin said.
He grappled emotionally with the type of father he wanted to be because of his challenging past.
“I want to be the best father I can be for my children, but sometimes I have a hard time pulling references as how to be a good father since I didn’t have that example in my life,” Stricklin said. “The only real example I’ve had in my entire life that has been consistent is my relationship with Jesus Christ. Through the demonstrations of love, forgiveness, grace and mercy that is demonstrated in scripture, that is where I look to in terms of how I need to present myself to my kids.”
Being a first time father and welcoming his second child a few years later, Stricklin felt it was time to pave a new path his children could walk down and be the best father he can be.
“I don’t want them to have to go through what I went through and what I needed to endure to get to where I am today,” Stricklin said.
Impacting junior Airmen
Stricklin arrived at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, where he gained experiences as a junior airman to help him become the leader he wants to be.
Shortly after becoming a non commissioned officer, Stricklin closed one tool box and opened a completely different style of tools when he was selected to be an ALS instructor.
During his 15 months as an ALS instructor, he has come across numerous people with challenges who have encountered similar experiences.
“I realized that I have the opportunity to talk with other people, share my story with them and have a bigger splash in the Air Force pool because of the diversity of people who come in here,” Stricklin said. “I encourage the Airmen to utilize the strengths they have or the skillsets they’ve already developed to help Airmen as opposed to being pushed in a different direction by somebody else.”
As Stricklin provides professional military education to approximately 20 senior airman per class, he offers constructive tools to develop Airmen into effective front-line supervisors. He has also brought a different perspective on how the instructors interpret some of the lessons and provided a different mindset on how to accomplish the curriculum.
“He takes the time to understand what is being taught and delivered through internalizing it which has truly helped us as instructors to best teach our students,” said Master Sgt. Caesar Alvarado, 7th FSS ALS commandant. “He’s good about making positive changes by talking with his students about what he has gone through both personally and professionally.”
No matter how hard a person’s past or present may be, those bad situations are not what make people who they are. Stricklin hopes to use his past and platform as an instructor to help Airmen grow to create a better Air Force.