CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, Iraq -- Granted, living conditions are not the greatest and meals are not home cooked, but many Marines have seen worse.
Combat is what the Marines trained for, planned for, but they don’t wish for. One Snyder, Texas, Marine with the 2nd Marine Division accepts his role and is never seen without a smile. He takes his positive attitude and makes it infectious by inspiring those who pass his post.
Lance Cpl. Paul Jones, a 20-year-old Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System operator and sentry on the combat operations center guard force is well-known by all Marines, sailors, soldiers and civilians who work here. That’s because they can’t get past Jones without a holler and a specialized greeting like -- “Good afternoon gunnery sergeant!”
The first half of Jones’ job requires him to process fire related information from the artillery batteries supporting the division’s infantry troops. The information he monitors in the combat operations center shapes the battlefield picture for those commanders planning various missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The AFATDS system Jones uses, coordinates artillery and mortar fire, attack helicopters and close air support.
The next part of his job is to provide physical security for the service members who work for the division staff in the COC. Jones is one of those Marines who declares he’s just doing his job – but he’s doing a lot more than that.
“He’s always motivated, no matter what time of day,” said Gunnery Sgt. Ron Atkinson, G-1 administration section chief. “If we’re taking fire or if it’s hot and nasty outside, it doesn’t matter – he’ll always put a smile on your face.”
Jones wasn’t always all smiles and motivation, though. In 2002, Jones decided to join the Corps after learning some tough life lessons. Boot camp was nothing new to him because Jones had already been through something like it at Hobbs High School.
“I was truant from school for a long time, working on my own and trying to make ends meet,” said Jones. "My mother stopped by my apartment one day and asked me, 'Are you ready to go to court?'
“Because I was truant for so long, the county wanted to prosecute me and put me in jail, and possibly her too, if I didn’t go back to school. I couldn’t have that. So that’s when I made the decision to turn my life around,” he said.
Jones attended a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps which was a boot camp for teenagers who had trouble getting through high school. The instructors shaved his head, he was issued a uniform and attended class just like a recruit – sitting on the floor like a Marine at boot camp. He had to work his way up the ladder to graduation, which required more than academic achievement, it included physical discipline as well.
“I remember the first day they told me to pick a rock on this rock wall. I had to stand at the position of attention and stare at it for a long time,” said Jones. “It was the first step in changing my way of life.”
Eventually Jones graduated and decided the strict regiment he received during high school was the way he wanted to accomplish the rest of his goals. So he joined the Corps just after graduating from Hobbs.
Now, Jones has experience in field artillery surveying and operating the AFATDS. He’s served with 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., and 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines in Okinawa, Japan.
While overseas, he had the chance to deploy to Mt. Fuji with his artillery battery and participate in bilateral training with the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force.
Since his first meeting in the recruiter’s office, the experiences offered to him by the Corps have changed his life dramatically - for the better.
“When the recruiter asked me what I wanted to do, I just told him I want to blow things up,” said Jones. “It was as simple as that. Even though I’m usually many kilometers away from the explosion, it seemed like the safe bet.”
Jones has a son who is about to turn two-years-old in September. Jones’ aspiration is to reenlist for another four years in the Marines and provide a secure life for his son through a career in the Marines.
“It’s dangerous work out here, but the thing that scares me most is when my son or my mother get sick,” said Jones. “I just want the best for him and I’m so close with her.”
Although he and his fellow Marines and sailors are engaged in combat operations and constantly in the line of indirect fires, he believes there’s a reason for being here and it’s best to just be happy. He believes in the simple life – waking up, eating chow, doing his duty and then going to bed. Everything in between is just inspiring others to enjoy life as much as he does.
“Rather than hate life over here, I like to think of the good things and make the best of the situation I’m in,” said Jones. “Besides, everything in life is better with a smile.”