By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
At that moment when Navy Seabee David Jones was deciding whether to re-enlist or leave the Navy, he sat down for a conversation with his chief warrant officer. “He was a salty, crusty old guy,” Jones recalled with a laugh. “He surprised me by asking if I had ever thought about becoming a Navy chaplain. I loved the Navy and I loved what I did, but I also had this tug on my heart to serve in a ministerial context. The warrant officer said to me, ‘You’re already a chaplain to these guys. People come to you with their problems. You never compromise your faith but you never push it on anyone else.’”
So Jones left the Navy, found a full-time job as a project manager while going to school full-time to finish his bachelor’s degree, which he had started while in the Navy by taking night classes. At the same time, he and his wife had three kids under the age of three. While life was stressful, Jones realized there would never be a “good time” to go back to school. “My dad always wanted to go back and finish his bachelor’s degree,” Jones said. “But he was always working two or three jobs to take care of us by himself.”
After graduating from seminary, Jones served as a church youth pastor in a small Georgia town, and eventually was asked to start a new church in the town to reach a younger community. After a few years, Jones had gained the experience necessary to return to the Navy as a chaplain. His first duty station was back to Gulfport, Mississippi to serve with the Seabees he had once worked alongside.
“About a year into my tour, a young Seabee was in a motorcycle accident,” Jones said. “I was in the ICU with his 21-year-old wife who was two weeks away from giving birth to their first child. She was asking me what to do. We called his parents. He was a member of a military bikers club and a couple of his buddies came to the hospital. I prayed with them and the Sailor’s parents who lived in Arizona and desperately wanted to be with their son. I wanted to grant their wish,” said Jones.
“I had become pretty close with someone from the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society office there in Gulfport,” Jones recalled. “She and I worked together trying to educate the young enlisted about personal financial management. It was probably 10 o’clock at night when I called her and I said ‘I don’t know what to do. I know you can’t always help families.’ She said she would make calls and get back to me. Within 30 minutes she called back and said, ‘Get me in touch with the parents and we’ll get them on a plane tonight or tomorrow.’ She never asked for anything in return. It was really powerful for the Sailor’s family. They came from Arizona the next morning. The Seabee had passed, but they were able to meet with his friends and see his wife and there was a lot of emotional healing taking place. The Society was willing to go way above and beyond the call of duty.”
That wasn’t the first time Jones felt grateful for the Society. Soon after his first enlistment in 1999, Jones had driven from Gulfport to Norfolk, Virginia to meet up with his Seabee Unit when his car engine blew up. “I was an E2 or E3 and didn’t have the money to replace my vehicle,” he said. “I went to NMCRS and felt very welcomed. I never felt like they were saying ‘shame on you.’ They gave me a no-interest loan to put a new engine in my car and helped me look at my budget and spending habits which set me on the right financial path.” As he advanced in rank as a Seabee, and after he became a chaplain, Jones had many opportunities to send Sailors to the Society for help.
“I wanted to give something back,” he said. “For the support that family received in Gulfport that day and for what the Society did for Seabees every day.” Jones was in Romania when he signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon as a member of the NMCRS Team. As a Navy chaplain, he has been deployed to Europe, Africa and the Pacific and has traveled extensively to visit, counsel, pray with, and conduct services for U.S Sailors and Marines assigned to remote areas around the globe. During his first two deployments, Jones traveled over 350,000 miles. Now assigned to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune where he has already deployed to Eastern Europe.
“My marathon training has been interesting—when we deployed to Georgia I ran on an old Russian air force base landing strip. In Bulgaria, I ran on a dirt track with Bulgarian service members. I’ve run a lot of miles on treadmills and dirt tracks all over Europe.”
Now he’s back home in North Carolina finishing up his training before this Sunday’s marathon. He and his wife now have five kids, ages 10, 9, 7, 3, and 1. “They’ve been pretty encouraging,” he said. “They want to start running on the treadmill when they see dad get off.” Jones said running is easier now that he’s serving with Marines, since working out daily is part of the job description, but he doesn’t expect to set any records in his first marathon. “My main goal is to finish. My super optimistic goal is around 4 hours. My more realistic goal is around 4:30.”
Jones is grateful that he’s been able to follow his calling as a minister and still serve Sailors and Marines. “My great aunt was one of the first female Marines in WWII, my grandfather was in the Army, I had a couple uncles who served in Korea, and my dad did 10 years on Navy submarines. He had to leave the Navy to take care of us when my parents got divorced. The military is a tough environment for families. There are so many different opportunities for a chaplain in the Navy. Ministering to military families is just one opportunity I’m grateful for. I’m committed to being a Navy chaplain for a very long time.”
Chaplain David Jones needs your help to reach his fundraising goal. Every dollar he raises will provide financial assistance for Sailors, Marines, and their families. Click here to support the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society on his behalf.