By Kellie Speed
Johnny “Joey” Jones knows all too well that sacrifice can often be the price of serving our great nation. The retired Marine Corps Staff Sergeant served in both Iraq and Afghanistan over his eight years of active duty.
While in Afghanistan, deployed as an Explosive Ordinance Disposal technician, he suffered a life-changing injury from an IED that resulted in the loss of both of his legs above the knee. He also sustained injuries to his right forearm and wrists that fateful day back in 2010.
Today, he is on a new mission, dedicating his life to improving the lives of all who served along with their families.
U.S. Veterans Magazine (USVM): What your inspiration was for initially joining the military?
Joey Jones (JJ): My two best friends, Chris and Keith, both of their dads were career military. Chris’ dad was my football coach and technology teacher, and he went to Desert Storm. When he came back, he had this little slideshow of Desert Storm he would show every eighth-grade class each year this as they were going into high school. It was just kind of to let kids know, as they are picking colleges and deciding what to do for the rest of their life, that military service was an option. And that inspired me early on. It inspired me in eighth grade, I guess.
Chris and Keith would talk about their dads and Keith had an uncle who was in the military. I didn’t have anybody in my family, not in my immediate family anyway, who had served in the military. About 2004, I was getting ready to graduate high school and Keith decided he was going to enlist in the Marine Corps, and he started talking to a recruiter. I didn’t want any part of it. Our buddy Chris went to North Georgia College, and with his dad being career military, Chris went into the ROTC program. Quite honestly, my high school girlfriend broke up with me; I didn’t like the job I had; I dropped out of college to change my job hours. I just went to work one day and realized I could work the rest of my life in a job I didn’t like or I could go see what else was out there. That was the first spark that maybe I wanted to leave town.
Then my buddy Keith got me in front of the recruiter and the recruiter did what recruiters do best—they sold me on the Marine Corps. I never talked to another service. If I was going to go to boot camp, I wanted to go to the toughest and hardest one and kind of prove that I could do it.
USVM: You were just 23 years old when you became a double amputee. Can you talk a little bit about your recovery and what inspires you now?
JJ: Sure. When I was injured in 2010, it was the beginning of the worst time for really all the services, but especially the EOD Program and the Marine Corps. We went from maybe five to 10 amputees of some sort on the floor at Walter Reed to 50 in about three months and so, the numbers just blew up right about the time I got hurt. I was on the front end of that, which meant I was through a lot of my initial recovery by the time a bunch of the guys started coming in. I don’t really know why, but Marines and sailors would do their physical recovery at Bethesda. Soldiers and airmen would do their physical recovery at Walter Reed. At the time they were two different places, but the actual rehabilitation where you get on prosthetic legs and learn to walk or learn to use your prosthetic hand or whatever it was for you, that training center was on campus at Walter Reed. The goal of what’s next was very unknown to them.
Once I recovered, it took me a couple of months to get through the healing process. I got injured in August 2010 and started walking in February 2011, so around that time, I started going back over to Bethesda because a bunch of my EOD buddies were there. And because I realized nobody ever did that for us. We didn’t really get that. When five or 10 of us were there, there was no concerted effort to show us what was next.
Just by walking the rooms, I got to spend time with the guy that just got hit, spending time with the family that didn’t have a clue what was next and letting them know that in just a few short weeks or months they would be eventually walking too, so it felt good for me.
It kept me accountable and meant, in order for me to do that, I had to practice what I preached and go to therapy every day and get better and better with my legs. It felt good to inspire the other guys and so that’s kind of initially a big part of why I was able to recover so quickly. Then on top of that, when you’re in war, you see the circumstances for somebody to die every day, and you see people die about once a week. When you get blown up and you look down and you realize you’re still alive, you’ve got a lot to be thankful for.
USVM: Can you also share some of your thoughts on the recruiting issues you think that faces our military today and what you think can be done to entice young men and women to enlist?
JJ: I think we look at it backwards, in a lot of ways. We’ve had a culture for about 20 years now of steering the recruiting towards catering to the recruit. We’re going to give you college when you get out and you can have a chance of healthcare for the rest of your life. My recruiter told me I could be stationed close to my house, which was never an option. We have geared recruiting so much towards the recruit that we’ve taken the element of adventure out of it, and we’ve taken the challenge out of it.
Back in 2005, when I walked into the recruiter’s office, it wasn’t, ‘Can I convince you to join me?’ It was, ‘Do you have what it takes to be me?’ Now, it’s more about changing the perspective of recruitment to make people feel comfortable coming into the military, when in fact, what we should be doing is telling them, ‘We doubt you have what it takes, but if you want to come prove it, we’ll give you that chance.’ We are human beings; we have an element that we need to experience the unknown and we need to be challenged. We need to see adventure. We need to see joining the military as stepping out into the world in a dramatically different way, and I think that for whatever reason, the narrative has shifted from that and the numbers are showing it.
USVM: How do you also think that we, as American civilians, can help veterans like you feel like your sacrifice was worth it in times like these?
JJ: I tell people all the time don’t thank me for my service, just be a population worth serving. It’s hard to answer that question without jumping headfirst into politics and none of us agree on that, but I would just take a step back and just say that gratitude goes a long way. Personal responsibility goes a long way. I want to serve a population that gets up in the morning and works as hard as I did to serve it. That’s all I want from it. I think that’s all anybody ever served wanted—was to come home to a place that appreciated it in the day-to-day, not just on Veterans Day or Memorial Day.
Joey Jones is a FOX News Contributor and FOX Nation Host