CAMP EDWARDS, Mass. - When Maj. James Jones of Stoughton, Mass., took command of the Officer Candidate School Oct. 1, 2011 at the 101st Regiment, Regional Training Institute on Camp Edwards, Mass., no one mentioned during the ceremony that he was the first black officer to assume command of the oldest state-run OCS program in the country.
“There was a time when Maj. Jones’ ethnic background would have been the central part of the ceremony, perhaps even overshadowing his individual achievements,” said Col. Charles Perenick, commander of the 101st Regiment and commandant of the Massachusetts Military Academy. “The fact that it wasn’t shows that time has passed. Maj. Jones is an outstanding officer who earned the job, period.”
In the 1980s, when Jones first enlisted in the 101st Infantry Regiment of Dorchester, Mass., mentors from diverse backgrounds among the senior leadership were hard to find. “In terms of higher-ranking minority or female role models, there weren’t many,” Jones recalled.
Nonetheless, Jones saw opportunity in the Guard. “When I was 17, the Guard opened doors for me in terms of training, career opportunities, college tuition assistance and a monthly paycheck,” he said.
Regarding career opportunities, Jones is also 23-year veteran state trooper -- holding the rank of lieutenant with the Massachusetts State Police -- a career he believes the Guard helped make possible.
“I wanted to be a police officer since I was a small boy,” Jones remembered. “Without the Guard and the opportunities it offered, I think I would have had a difficult time achieving that goal. And it helped that there were several ranking Soldiers in the Massachusetts National Guard, like Maj. Gen. Joseph Carter, Lt. Col. Mark Vickers and Sgt. 1st Class Andy Murphy, who were also police officers.”
Jones became a team leader in the 772nd Military Police Company of Taunton, Mass., and in 1999 he attended Officer Candidate School at the Massachusetts Military Academy. In 2000 he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Military Police Corps and has since served in a variety of positions in the Massachusetts National Guard before assuming command of OCS, including platoon leader with the 747th Military Police Company of Ware, Mass.; Special Staff Officer and Aide de Camp to Brig. Gen. Thomas Sellers, the Massachusetts Army National Guard's land component commander; and commander of the 747th.
Over the course of his military career, Jones has seen a marked change in the availability of role models for minority Soldiers, and civilians too. In 2007, Col. Joe Burch was the first minority commandant of the Massachusetts Military Academy, Carter is the first minority Adjutant General of the Massachusetts National Guard, Deval Patrick is Massachusetts’ first African-American governor and President Barack Obama is the first minority individual to hold that office.
“When I went through OCS, for example, there weren’t any minorities on the staff,” Jones said. “Now we are very diverse; the opportunity for advancement for minorities is wide open. The fact that a young minority Soldier can look around today and know that the leadership and promotional opportunities are available based on performance is a huge source of inspiration.”
Jones deployed to Afghanistan in 2003 and Iraq in 2009. He also served on active duty for Operation Firm Resolve at Logan International Airport after Sept. 11, 2001, and for Operation Southern Comfort in response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. He said that his experience with these operations showed that diversity in the National Guard is about more than race or gender.
“The Guard is unique ... not only is there cultural, religious and ethnic diversity, but every Soldier has a civilian career or skill,” Jones noted. “During the mission in response to Hurricane Katrina, for example, if we needed a plumber, an electrician, a veterinary technician or an ordained minister, we had one in the unit. And my experience as a civilian police officer was critical in my ability to perform my unit’s mission to train and mentor Iraqi police officers as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
A recipient of the Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal and Army Achievement Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, among other awards, Jones is quick to point out that his success is because of his Soldiers. “It’s their accomplishments that have made me look good. I only made sure they had the personnel, equipment, time and opportunity to succeed,” he said.
What advice would Jones give to anyone in the Guard today who wants to become a leader?
“First, learn how to follow. Unless you’re the commander-in-chief, you will always be taking orders. Second, every decision you make has both positive and negative consequences. Listen to your NCOs and leverage their experience, but always remember that if you’re the officer in charge, the decision is yours and yours alone. Finally, learn everything you can and never ask a Soldier to do something you would not be willing to do yourself.”