My War Story

Gen. James Jones, USMC (Ret.) is currently the president of Jones Group International, a company he formed to address some of the most challenging geo-strategic issues of our time. He was appointed as the 22nd National Security Advisor to the President of the United States on January 20, 2009. Jones previously served as president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber Institute for 21st Century Energy. From July 1999 to January 2003, Jones was the 32nd Commandant of the Marine Corps. After relinquishing command as Commandant, he assumed the positions of Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR) and Commander of the United States European Command (USEUCOM), positions he held until December 2006. Jones retired from active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps on Feb. 1, 2007, after more than 40 years of uniformed service to the nation.

On Nov. 28, 2007, General Jones was appointed as the State Department’s Special Envoy for Middle East Regional Security. In this capacity, he worked with Israeli and Palestinian officials in furthering the Peace Process – focused on the full range of security issues in order to strengthen security for both sides.

Jones spent his formative years in France, returning to the U.S. to attend Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, from which he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1966. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in January 1967 and, later that year was ordered to the Republic of Vietnam where he served as a platoon and company commander. In addition to combat experience in Vietnam, his deployment experiences included tours as Commander, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, in Operation Provide Comfort in Northern Iraq and Turkey and, after advancing to brigadier general, as Chief of Staff, Joint Task Force Provide Promise, for operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia.

Q: Was there every any doubt growing up that you would enter the Marine Corps?

A: No doubt whatsoever! My uncle and father were WWII Marines and both fought in the Pacific at the same time. While I thought that everyone should serve their country at some point, I never thought that I would spend 40 years in uniform. I am very proud of the fact that my family has had a Jones Marine infantry officer on active duty every day since 1938. I might add that none of us ever attended a service academy!

Q: In what ways did your time as a combatant in Vietnam have an impact on you?

A: At the age of 23, I found myself serving as a rifle platoon and company commander in combat during 1967-1968. My baptism under fire was the Tet Offensive. The experience changed me in many ways. I was recently married, had a newborn son who would be six months old when I returned home, and was serving with the finest men I have ever known in combat. No drugs, no race problems, no ethnic problems, a shortage of officers and staff NCOs…but we got the job done.

I mistakenly believed that we were really in this fight to win it, but after 13 months in the north, and being frustrated by the ROE that provided sanctuary for the enemy across several borders, and feeling that the South Vietnamese Army, and the people in South Vietnam, were too comfortable with the idea that we would fight and die for them forever, I left convinced that that without us the South would fold in a fight against the North, and it did come to that in the end.

Throughout my career I always tried to get a sense of the “will of the people” with regard to any future intervention on our part, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq. If the people are with you, and will fight for their freedom, we can win. If not, it is impossible.

Col. Harry Summers’ interview of General Giap resonates in my mind today. He said to the General “You know you never defeated us in any single battle,” to which General Giap responded “That’s true. But it is also immaterial.”

Q: What was your feeling when the war ended?

A: Very sad for those who paid the ultimate price, and very disappointed in our political leaders who didn’t have the guts to do what was necessary.

Q: What qualities in your personality have led you to succeed in challenging jobs such as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and Commandant of the Marine Corps?

A: Difficult to answer as I was selected by my seniors. They should provide the answer to this question. I think that I was fortunate to have had a career that gave me the opportunity to learn a skill that was both rare and valued by the Marine Corps’ senior leadership, and that was the five year experience I had a Marine Liaison Officer to the U.S. Senate from 1979-1984. While many wrote my military obituary for having spent so long in one job away from the mainstream Marine Corps, it turned out to be a great asset. Having a good reputation in Washington does not hurt in the ultimate selection to be Commandant.

As for SACEUR, I think that assignment was made with consideration that I was raised in France, was bilingual, and was reasonably well known in Europe. As no Marine has ever gone on to another military job after having served as Commandant, I think that breaking that mold may have played a factor as well. I was very grateful for this opportunity; it was a great honor to serve in this capacity.

Q: What was the most important lesson that the Vietnam War should have taught—America’s military leaders?

A: If the will of the people you are trying to help is not there, forget it!

Q: Do you think most Americans today have an understanding and appreciation of the military?

A: Having the Vietnam era to compare today to, absolutely!

Q: The Education Center will teach about values like loyalty, integrity, duty, honor and courage which are integral to military culture. What are your thoughts about the impact of the Center ?

 A: It certainly will help greatly, though these aren’t the qualities that are lacking in today’s armed forces. The ability to develop strategic thinkers is the biggest shortfall I see in the ranks today. We have brilliant tacticians, the best in the world, but we lack strategic thinkers. Even rarer are those who can do both! There are some fundamental changes to the pay/promotion system that need to be implemented as well.

On the whole, the “values” appear to be rock solid, largely thanks to the All Volunteer Force. The military will have to adjust to a different way to “engaging” in the 21st century. It is likely that U.S. engagement will be a combination of the armed forces, the private sector, and the NGO community each “dialed up” proportionately in response to the challenge.