Don't call him Michael Jackson.
The leathery British paratrooper who commands the 48,000-strong NATO force moving into Kosovo this weekend has the same formal name as a certain white-gloved singer, but it's a name the three-star general never uses. He's known to his friends and his troops as "Jacko" or "General Mike," and even when Queen Elizabeth II made him a knight in 1998, the cigar-chomping soldier was dubbed Lt. Gen. Sir Mike Jackson.
The general, 55, is no stranger to tough assignments, having led an infantry brigade in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles in the British province and commanded the British division of the U.N. Implementation Force in Bosnia in 1995-96. He is currently the commanding general of NATO's Rapid Reaction Force, a 15,000-member unit that began deploying to Macedonia in March.
Having been designated commander of KFOR, NATO's Kosovo Force, Jackson had to spend his first week on the new job at a negotiating table, alternately cajoling and pushing the Yugoslav army to go ahead with the withdrawal that Yugoslavia's government had agreed to.
Now, with the terms for Yugoslav withdrawal settled, Jackson can put on his maroon paratrooper's beret and move into the field with his soldiers -- the place he most wants to be. He's so comfortable in an army field unit that he moved a camp bed into his office for catnaps.
A soldier born and bred, Jackson was an army brat and graduated from Sandhurst, the British military academy. Throughout his career, he has been marked as an intellectual with a bent for action.
His first assignment was in the Intelligence Corps, and he spent three years during the Cold War getting a degree in Russian and Russian studies from Birmingham University. With the degree in hand, he jumped to a parachute battalion. He has been a proud "para" since 1967 -- and one of his three children has followed him into the parachute corps.
Jackson has also served in Scotland and on several European posts. Since achieving staff rank, the general has moved back and forth from senior British army posts to various NATO commands. When he finished his tour as a division commander in Bosnia, he served briefly in London as chief of army development and doctrine -- i.e., strategic planning. Then, in February of 1997, he took command of the NATO Rapid Reaction Force, a job that brought him his third star.