Retired Marine Staff Sgt. Johnny “Joey” Jones was a freshman in high school when America was attacked on 9/11. He said the experience inspired his lifelong commitment to patriotism and service.
Initially, Jones says it was hard to wrap his head around how monumental it all really was.
“New York was as far away as England for a kid living in a small town in Georgia,” Jones explained. “It took weeks and really months for it all to resonate with me. Then we went to war; that’s when it really set in.”
In just two short years, he was listening to a former student-turned-soldier talk about his combat experience.
“It hit home in 2003, like wow, we are a part of this. This is going to change my life whether I want it to or not,” Jones said.
Because his family had no high school graduates, getting a diploma was a goal for Jones. Beyond that, he says college seemed unachievable, and, though deeply patriotic, his family’s history did not include a deep amount of military service.
“In 2005 I turned 18 and was working in a carpet mill, like everyone else in my town, and I got to thinking how I could work the rest of my life for a $10 an hour raise,” Jones said. “I was like, there has to be something more to this. More purpose and more to achieve. I didn’t think I’d be making more money, but I definitely wanted to be doing something I believed in.”
His two closest friends, Chris and Keith, were military kids and had always intended to join. But it was Jones who was first to enlist in the Marine Corps.
“It was kind of funny and ironic,” Jones said with a smile. “When I sat down in front of the recruiter, he put these plaques out and they had words on them that really mattered to me.”
“Discipline. Responsibility. Leadership.”
He signed up. Jones admits his initial enlistment was for selfish reasons, but his mentality quickly changed.
“By the time I was 20 years old, I was fighting a war for something bigger than myself,” he said.
After a combat deployment to Iraq, Jones became an EOD Technician. On Aug. 6, 2010, he was deployed to the Helmand Province of Afghanistan, which at the time was the deadliest location for troops.
Earlier that week, Jones and his team found and destroyed more than 40 improvised explosive devices. After clearing an area in the Safar Bazaar, he leaned against a wall for a break. When he stood up and started walking again, he unknowingly triggered a hidden IED.
It’s been 11 years since losing both of his legs and severely injuring both arms in the blast.
Despite the challenges of navigating life following combat injuries, Jones began advocating for veterans on Capitol Hill while he was still a patient at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. His actions resulted in a host of legislative improvements and VA policy changes for military members and veterans.
And the “unattainable” idea of college? He did it.
These days viewers watch Jones on FOX News, where he is a regular contributor, or see him hosting multiple shows on FOX Nation. On the Proud American podcast, he tackles important issues impacting the country. Jones also sits on the boards of nonprofits and volunteers his time speaking out for veterans.
With many active-duty service members anxious about a reduction of forces as the war ends, Jones wants them to know they are more than their uniform.
“At the end of the day, the military made you a self-sufficient, resilient person that knows how to learn, train, work with others and how to believe in a mission and get it done,” he said.
Jones says he remains deeply grateful for his service. While the world recognizes the somber anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, for him, it’s equally important to point out an important fact: 9/11 hasn’t happened again.
“Our job when we enlist in the military is to fight for our country, defend it and keep it safe,” he said. “In response to Sept. 11, 2001, two things happened. One is America was reassured it has an entire class of citizens willing to do that for them. Two, the world was reassured that if you attack us, we will come after you.”
As for this retired Marine, despite suffering and loss, Jones says he would do it all over again. But, he jokes, he’d step left instead of right next time.