NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Boxed in by cold white bricks and murky blue floors with nothing but a rickety desk separating his twin-size bed from a closet full of rank-less uniforms, in October 2007, Airman Basic Council Jones hit the lowest point of his life.
Seven months earlier, Jones arrived at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, freshly “blued” and ready for duty. Later, he would find himself at then Lackland AFB’s correctional confinement facility — a place he would call home for 30 days.
“At that time, I was so hopeless,” Jones said. “I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I was blaming everyone but myself.”
A native of Huntsville, Alabama, Jones went to basic training in August 2006 with a contract to become a security forces member. After completing his training, he arrived at Laughlin AFB the following March, and by June, Jones’ squadron was down to minimum manning, with all projected leave canceled.
Having planned ahead and bought a plane ticket to Alabama during a weekend he was scheduled to be off anyway, Jones decided to go against his commander’s order and fly home for the Fourth of July weekend.
“They told everyone not to leave the area and that San Antonio was the farthest away you could go without being on leave,” Jones said. “So I worked Wednesday and Thursday, and I thought, since I’m off this weekend anyway, I could go home and come back on Sunday, no harm no foul. So that’s what I did. I got a ride up to San Antonio to catch a plane on Thursday night.
“On Friday while I’m at home, I get a phone call from the area of the base, and then the law enforcement (LE) desk called me and said the first sergeant was trying to get ahold of me.”
Jones called his first sergeant and told him he was in San Antonio, so the first sergeant told Jones to go to the Lackland LE desk and have them call the Laughlin LE desk to verify he was really there.
“So I just tried to go along with it to see if it would blow over, but after about an hour, the shirt called to ask where I was, and I told him I was stuck in traffic,” Jones said. “About 30 minutes later, he called me back and I knew he thought something was up because he was like, ‘Jones, where are you really?’ And I sighed and said I was back in Alabama.”
The first sergeant then told Jones he had an appointment with the commander first thing Monday morning.
Jones was livid.
“Before I actually walked in the commander’s office that next day, the shirt pulled me to the side and said to just take the command-directed (letter of reprimand) and call it a day,” Jones said. “I wasn’t happy about that. So, the commander is talking to me with my entire chain of command behind me and said, ‘I got a right mind to kick you out of the Air Force right now,’ and I said, ‘Do whatever you (expletive) feel.’ ”
Stunned, Jones said the room went so completely silent, you could hear a pin drop. The commander told his enlisted leadership to get Jones out of his office. But the expletive-laced rant was just beginning.
“As I’m being taken out of the office, I’m cussing and screaming at everybody, going off on my entire leadership — every single person that was there,” Jones said. “And I’m crying, blaming everybody, and one guy who I basically credit with saving my career, then Tech. Sgt. Joseph Joslin, pulls me aside, looks at me and was like, ‘Jones what are you doing? Everything that you’ve worked for and everything you’ve done you’re about to piss it all away right now.’ And I told him I didn’t care; I just wanted to go home.”
Go to jail
Instead of just receiving the command-directed LOR, Jones was now on the hook for 10 charges. Throughout the three-month investigation, Jones lost his badge and beret and was relegated to cleaning duty around the squadron.
After the investigation closed, Jones’ commander called him back into his office.
“He said, ‘Jones, you told me to do whatever I feel, so this is what I feel — you will now be reduced from the rank of airman first class to airman basic, forfeiture of half a month’s pay for two months, extra duty, base restriction upon return, and your being sentenced to Lackland AFB Medina Correctional Facility for 30 days,’ ” Jones said.
“My heart dropped. Everything else, I was kind of expecting it because I disrespected everybody, but when he told me I had to go to jail, my heart dropped.”
For the entire month of October 2007, Jones was held in correctional confinement.
“The facility was near the security forces tech school, so it was embarrassing because I had an escort to the shoppette to buy supplies, and I looked like someone who was in a correctional facility,” Jones said. “I saw some of my old cadre, people that had just sent me off to my first base a few months ago. My commander came to see me two times and the second time when he came to see me, I was still upset and in that mindset that it wasn’t my fault — the Air Force did me wrong. I had a lot of anger toward him still, but he told me to use that experience as a remotivational tool, because if I came back and tried to do the same things as before, I wouldn’t make it very long in this Air Force.”
Upon his release, Jones was determined to separate himself from his past, so he started down a new path — but again went off course.
One late night on patrol, Jones dozed off during a lull in action.
“I was de-armed and relieved of duty again. I hadn’t even been back on flight for one week,” Jones said. “I went back to see the commander again and before I left his office that day he said, ‘If I see you in my office one more time, I will kick you out of the military.’ ”
This was it for Jones — he was at a fork in the road and had to decide which path he would take.
Jones took 15 days of leave to find his answer. For 15 days, Jones stayed in his dorm room, prayed, talked to family members who were military veterans, and did a lot of soul searching.
Much like a butterfly leaving its chrysalis behind, Jones accepted responsibility for his actions and chose to not let his checkered past define his future.
One late night, he saw his commander’s car parked in front of the squadron. Jones’ commander was set to make a permanent change of station and was clearing out his office.
Jones had one burning question to ask his outgoing commander before he left Laughlin AFB.
“I knocked on his door and he said I could come in,” Jones said. “I asked him why he chose to keep me in, because when I was in confinement, he had kicked out a few of my friends for what I considered to be less offenses. He was packing his stuff up, but he stopped, looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Because I see something special in you. Don’t prove me wrong.’ ”
From that point on, Jones was determined to make his old commander proud. In September 2008, he deployed to Iraq as an airman basic who was looking to make a difference.
“While I was down there, we did some really good things,” Jones said. “And I actually won the Airman of the Quarter award at the squadron and group level when I got back.”
In January 2010, Jones PCS’d to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, and deployed to Afghanistan for eight months in May 2010 with the Army’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, which would earn him an Army Commendation Medal.
As a senior airman looking for a new challenge, Jones became the unit deployment manager — a position that had normally been filled by technical sergeants — for a squadron with more than 400 defenders. During his two-year stint as the UDM, Jones won the 52nd Fighter Wing’s Airman of the Year award, was praised by the installation deployment officer for being the best UDM he had, and made staff sergeant.
In January 2014, Jones was assigned to the 99th Security Forces Squadron and Nellis AFB. By May 2014, Jones had already been accepted as an airman dormitory leader, or dorm manager, for the 99th Civil Engineer Squadron.
As a dorm manager at Nellis AFB, Jones gets to do what he loves the most: help young people.
“In the military, one of the greatest jobs we can have, and I know it sounds so cliché, is being a supervisor and a mentor,” Jones said. “I love it, because you have the single-most important impact on the way somebody’s career can go. If it weren’t for sergeant Joslin talking to me, mentoring me, being there for me, I would’ve had such a hate for the Air Force that I would’ve gotten out a long time ago.”
A mentor’s influence
Jones, who just tested for technical sergeant for the first time this year, knows he couldn’t have come this far without a mentor to pick him up when he fell — a mentor like now Master Sgt. Joslin, the 91st Operations Group and 91st Maintenance Operation Squadron first sergeant at Minot AFB, North Dakota.
“Airman Jones had a great work ethic that I could see in him and he worked well with the public. He just could not grasp the concept that the Air Force required a high level of integrity and he needed to be all in,” Joslin said. “The confidence and leadership he has now is a long way from the Airman that had one foot out the door back at Laughlin AFB. I think Staff Sgt. Jones can be someone that Airmen can look at if they have a rocky start in the Air Force and show them that we are not a one-mistake Air Force and some of our best people had adversity, but were able to overcome it.”
Jones still sees plenty of challenges ahead of him and has a checklist of goals he wants to accomplish while in the Air Force: complete a bachelor’s degree, publish a second book of poetry, become a military training instructor and reach the rank of chief master sergeant. He knows none of those goals would’ve been possible if he hadn’t changed his attitude and been given second and third chances more than seven years ago.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have been given another chance, because I love what I do and I love the Air Force,” Jones said. “Even though you may falter, fail or make a mistake, no matter what, as long as you have that drive to succeed and overcome, you can always bounce back. You may not bounce back into a situation you want to be in, but you do have a chance to recover. It may hurt and come with trials, tribulations and a lot of hoops to jump through, but if you want it bad enough, is there anything you wouldn’t do for it? I did, so it’s doable.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This feature is part of the “Through Airmen’s Eyes” series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.