MG Jones to retire as innovative change agent for better
|SAN ANTONIO – A silhouette photograph of a gear-laden Soldier walking into the desert sunset hangs on the office wall of Maj. Gen. Reuben D. Jones as a constant reminder of what drove him to serve 34 years in the U.S. Army.“I often talk about that Soldier on that wall right there,” Jones said while pointing at the photo. “That’s the thing that kind of motivates me. It has motivated me for a number of years – ever since that guy gave it to me.“I put it on my wall when I came here from the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command because that represents what I have been as a leader. I kept the Soldier as a center of my focus for my entire career. I didn’t care what nationality, what ethnic mix, what sex, religion, I didn’t care. I didn’t care about military occupational specialty, and that photograph brings that out.“It brings it out because I don’t know if that Soldier is male or female. I don’t know what their specialty is. I don’t know what their religion is. It’s just a silhouette of a Soldier. So when I pop on the light, even here, that reminds me of whom I serve.”
After 34 years of serving Soldiers and their Families, Jones officially will retire Jan. 1, 2013, from the U.S. Army Installation Management Command, where his final assignment was deputy commanding general for operations. His farewell and awards dinner was Dec. 1 at a San Antonio hotel and his retirement ceremony was Dec. 3 at the historic Fort Sam Houston Quadrangle.
“Fifty percent of those Soldiers have a family, so they fall into my support window,” Jones continued. “And I’ve used that over my career to really drive my energy, my creativity, my connection with people and ability to be with people – I use that as my rally point. And when things get tough, I just look at that Soldier and say, ‘You’ve got another ounce or two to give before the sun goes down because those Soldiers fight and win our nation’s wars.’ Generals don’t do it, but those Soldiers do. And that’s what I’ve balanced and pivoted on for a number of years.”
Along the road from his birthplace in West Point, Miss., Jones, 56, made a lot of significant stops and many meaningful programs were launched on his watch.
Jones is particularly proud of his work with Survivor Outreach Services, which allowed him to personally reach out and point survivors of fallen Soldiers in the direction of assistance.
“Creating a virtual environment for survivors, that’s powerful,” he said. “When you get down to some of the things that I’m really proud of, it really boils down to some of the things I’ve done with survivor assistance – improvement in the casualty system – things that touch real lives. That is a mission I’ve been on for a number of years, even before I became a general.”
Jones generated energy for the Army Family and Community Covenants, which pledged the Army’s commitment to support Soldiers and their Families and resource programs to provide them a quality of life commensurate with their service.
As executive director of the Military Postal Service Agency in Alexandria, Va., Jones helped automate post offices and reduced mailing time to deployed Soldiers, assuring everyone received a ballot for the 2008 presidential election.
Jones developed a single-page Enlisted Record Brief, complete with the Soldier’s photograph. He helped the Army become first in the military to smart phone enable Army families with the Army One Source Locator, Army Family Action Plan Issues, Mobile MWR and Money Matters applications while at the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command in Alexandria.
“Amazing,” Jones said. “Amazing.”
Likewise for his automation of the evaluation system for personnel actions and the selection board system, a couple more of Jones’ claims to Army fame.
“The big thing that has changed in the Army for me, as a human resource Soldier, is we’ve gone from stubby pencil to automating much of the data we use to support Soldiers and families,” said Jones, who was commissioned in 1978 through the ROTC program at Jackson State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology. “Division has changed, but getting programs and showing the result of the good use of technology to support them, it’s been hard because often no one wants to give resources for it. But over my career, I’ve been at the forefront – sometimes I call myself ‘The Mad Innovator’ – because the Army allowed me to push the envelope to show that we can have improved systems without a lot of resources – and they’re working.
“The Army has allowed me the opportunity to have fun innovating and modernizing processes, and it didn’t cost a lot of money. People would say, ‘Hey, let’s think outside the box.’ There wasn’t any money to think outside the box because when you think outside the box, it costs money. So I would tell people, ‘Let’s look inside the box because everything we need is probably in there. We can reshape and reallocate in order to deliver things.’ And that’s what we’ve done.”
For his efforts, Jones received several awards, including an American flag that flew over the Pentagon, a Mississippi flag, an IMCOM Stalwart Award and The Order of Saint Maurice Medallion, along with several parting gifts. His wife, Linda, received a White Plume award – the highest medal of achievement for support of MWR – and The Shield of Sparta Medallion. She also surprised her husband with a portrait of him that she painted.
On Monday, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III presided over Jones’ retirement ceremony, during which Jones received a Certificate of Appreciation signed by President Barack Obama, a Distinguished Service Medal, a retirement certificate and pin, and an Adjutant General Corps Award.
“It’s never easy to say farewell to a respected colleague and friend,” Austin said. “However, we are certainly grateful for the opportunity to come together and to reflect and thank Reuben and his wife Linda for all they have done for our Army, our Soldiers, our wounded warriors and their families over the course of what has been a truly remarkable career and service to our Army and our nation.”
“It goes without saying that Reuben has had a tremendous and lasting impact on our Army and our personnel community. We are deeply grateful for his leadership, his hard work, his innovative thinking, and for his demonstrated commitment to our most important asset, our people.”
Jones often represented the Army at funerals of fallen warriors, including when he represented the Army Chief of Staff at the burial of Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Vernon Baker, the last living African-American veteran of World War II, at Arlington National Cemetery.
“I’ll remember that for the rest of my time,” said Jones, who noted that his photo appeared the next day in The Washington Post. “Being a part of all those activities made me feel good about being an Army senior leader.”
Another touching moment recently occurred when Jones was invited back to his birthplace as a Veterans Day guest speaker.
“I went to my hometown that I’d never been in since I was born,” Jones said. “Went back there for the first time in 56 years, and I was the guest speaker. That was a wonderful moment.”
Jones’ family moved from West Point to Jackson, Miss., during the first month of his life when his father took a job in nearby Vicksburg.
“I never had an opportunity to go back,” he said. “Always wanted to go back, and I finally got a chance to go back. And I took my father, Louis W. Jones Sr., with me. We got a chance to take a three-hour drive, just me and him, going through some of the main roads and back roads of Mississippi from Jackson to West Point.
“And that’s just the tip of the opportunities that our great Army has afforded me to go places and to represent it,” Jones added. “I’ve met some of the world’s most famous entertainers; got a chance to spend time with Muhammad Ali in London. His wife said: ‘Muhammad is going to take a picture with the general,’ and I said: ‘Wow.’ I’ve studied at Harvard, all because of the Army. I’ve been to NASCAR races. I’ve been to football games. I have been to the White House to meet with the First Lady’s staff to shape programs that support Soldiers.”
Jones tackled one of his greatest challenges as commander of the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command, where he learned how to work with non-appropriated funds.
“That is probably the most challenging job the Army can give to a leader: to be in charge of the non-appropriated fund world,” Jones said. “You are the CEO of a $3.5 billion business. I often tell people that we weren’t out there to make money, but the truth of the matter is in order to deliver services, we had to. That money is the tool that allows you to do that.
“Coming into the non-appropriated funds world, you just have to learn the rules because it is a very powerful tool of using Soldiers’ dollars to operate the things that Soldiers like. The big challenge was making sure that you didn’t do anything illegal when you use those funds, but it’s a wonderful tool to give things back to Soldiers with their own dollars. You can execute quicker, faster, better.”
Jones most wants to be remembered as an innovative change agent who made things better.
“I want to be remembered as a great Soldier,” he said. “As a Soldier who was an innovator, a Soldier who served his country well, a Soldier who cared about families, a Soldier who motivated people during very, very tough times. I want to be remembered as giving my all to preserve organizations, and I want to be remembered as a change agent for better because change is change, but better is better, and I think I’ve been a part of making things better.”
For now, Jones simply hopes to improve his golf game. He is scheduled to begin class Jan. 2 at the Professional Golfers Career College in Orlando, Fla. PGCC claims to be the only school that guarantees golf five days a week – class until noon and golf until dusk.
“I’ll do that for one semester,” Jones said with a sly grin. “And I’ll do it so I can be like some of the kids when I went to school. They had a car, and they had money. I’m going to have a car and I’m going to have some money and I want to have some fun as a student again. That’s what I’m going to do for one semester only.”
Jones will then transition to his next phase of life, the one where wife Linda gets 51 percent of the vote on what he does next.
“She’s really excited,” he said. “She had 49 percent and the Army had 51. Now, with the change in status, she will have the lion’s share of that vote.”