OKEECHOBEE — Veteran Jeff Jones is originally from Northwest Iowa, a small town called Sioux Rapids. He comes from a farming background. They had several thousand acres on one side and a couple thousand on the other. They had pigs, horses, cattle, dairy, sheep — pretty much everything, he said. Some of Mr. Jones’ friends joined the Army Reserves, and they were a year ahead of him, so he decided when he became a high school junior, he would join, too.
He went to basic between his junior and senior years and then went on to his job training, and then after he graduated, he did one weekend a month and two weeks out of the year for about three and a half years. His job training was artillery. He shot a big gun. It was not really a skilled job, but it was important, he explained. They didn’t have a lot of choices in his reserve group at that time, either. You could be a mechanic, artillery, a cook or administration. He wanted to shoot guns. He wanted to be on a howitzer.
Then he moved to California to get away from the snow and work on some dairy farms out there, but he decided to go full-time Army. He got tired of the black and white cows all the time, he said. He went to Fort Riley, Kan., 1st Infantry Division as an artilleryman. He was there for about a year and a half before going to Hanau, Germany. He was stationed with the 3rd Army Division there and was there for three years. During that time, it was the Cold War. The Russians weren’t that far away, so the training was a lot more intense while they were in Germany. It was real-world scenarios. They have what they call “Reforger,” which is return forces to Germany. Stateside units came over, and the units in Germany would fight each other in the countryside. It was like a moving battle for about 30 days to gear them up in case the Russians came across.
He also worked with special weapons while he was there, which is classified high explosives for artillery. Their job was not to stop the Russians from coming in but to slow them down with nuclear rounds. Back then, the Germans trained with real nuclear, biological chemicals, but the Americans used tear gas for training. They were put on alert sometimes and were locked down for days at a time. Germany doesn’t get as cold as it does up in the Midwest, he said, but you get a lot of snow. The snow was what made it difficult, because it was so damp over there, he said.
When he came back to the United States, in October 1990, right after Iraq invaded Kuwait, he was sitting at his in-laws’ house on Nov. 8 watching C-SPAN when it talked about overseas units deploying to Saudi Arabia. They said 3rd Armored Division entire, and he kind of started laughing. He thought, “Oh man, I’m glad I got out of there.” He said he liked that unit, but there were some things he didn’t like, but then they said stateside units deploying and mentioned his new unit. “OOH! That’s me in 20 days,” he said. So, he walked upstairs, and told his family he just found out he was going to Saudi Arabia.
That was kind of scary because you don’t know the section. You don’t know those guys. You never worked with them before. You don’t know the leadership. He kind of wished he was back in Germany with the guys he knew. In his old unit, he knew everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. As a leader, it is a lot easier to perform that way, he said. Right after he got back to the states, he was supposed to go to one unit, but he knew he didn’t want to go to that unit, he wanted to go to his home unit, because of its history and professionalism. It seemed to carry more of a brotherhood.
So, after they flew back from Germany, he drove to Kansas to meet with the unit sergeant major and, after a few conversations, he said he would get the orders changed. So, he ended up back with his old battalion, which he said made him feel a lot easier going over.
They deployed to Saudi Arabia toward the end of December, and they were one of the units who went out immediately. They were about 11 miles off the Iraqi border. In January, they sent two Iraqi tanks across the border, and his unit was the first to fire rounds on them, a show of force. They did some raids in February, and when the ground war broke out, they were against the 42nd Republican Guard, which was Saddam Hussein’s elite unit. They took them out in less than 24 hours. A lot of Iraqis surrendered, but it was sad because a lot of the lower enlisted soldiers were forced to stay there by officers. If they tried to run away, they got shot.
Their main objective at first was Baghdad, and President Bush decided to change the objective to liberate Kuwait. They took a hard right turn, and went into Kuwait and Southern Iraq until the peace talks. They guarded the outer perimeter of the peace talks. When they pulled in to guard the peace talks, there were about 25 to 30 refugee tents, and by the time they left after the talks were done, it was an entire city, with tents as far as you could see.
The guys in his unit from Desert Storm all formed a pretty close bond, and all but one of them still stay in contact now. After he got home, he spent a lot of his time as an Army recruiter. “They should give you a combat patch for that,” he joked. Coming out of artillery and being a howitzer section chief and gunnery sergeant, he was not used to being told no. Then he got in recruiting and asked somebody to join the Army, and they told him no! “You can’t tell me no! You see this on my collar.” He spent about half his career in recruiting command and eventually learned to accept the word “no” again. It helped him transition back into civilian life, he said.
“Military life is hard, not only for the military service member, but also their spouse and family members. We are gone a lot, not always sure when we will come home, or if we will even come home. The military spouse is a very unique breed. They have to be both mother and father. They must be independent and strong willed. They cannot always express themselves to the service member’s superiors, but must smile and suck it up through many things. I was unable to watch all of my children grow up on a daily basis. Sometimes, I would just see them on the weekend. They knew I had a mission, whether it was my time in the artillery or recruiting. I had a mission to accomplish or training for a mission. Most civilians do not recognize the sacrifice, the families have to endure, as well,” he said.
“I will leave you with this. After getting back from Iraq, I went back to my hometown. They were honoring all the veterans from the surrounding area. As I was interviewed by the radio station, I was asked this question. ‘What are you thankful for?’ I waited a minute to answer, and I surprised everyone standing there, with this answer. I am thankful for the veterans before me. I am thankful for the knowledge they passed down to my generation. If it had not been for them, I do not believe that I would have been able to bring all my soldiers back alive.”
Mr. Jones owns Jones Supply A.I. Sales and Services Inc. on Southwest Park Street. He also serves on the Okeechobee County Agri-Civic Center Advisory Board and currently is chairman of that board.