June 21, 2011

A Bomb Squad Survivor Tells His Story

On the evening of April 2, 2011, in a ballroom at the Gaylord National Convention Center outside Washington, D.C., a crowd of more than 500 rose to cheer a young Marine standing in their midst. He was wearing his dress blues and two prosthetic legs. The black-tie crowd was celebrating University of Maryland University College’s new cybersecurity program and the young bilateral amputee was newly enrolled. (PHOTO: Johnny with UMUC Provost Greg von Lehman)

Until a bomb blast took both his legs and severely injured his arm, Sgt. Johnny Jones was a bomb disposal technician with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. He has the calm disposition and careful, thoughtful way of talking you’d expect from someone with a job in which mistakes can be fatal.

After graduating from high school at 17 in 2004 and starting college, he says, “I was smart enough to realize how immature I was.” The Marine Corps offered discipline and responsibility and a year later he was ready for both. During a deployment to Iraq, he helped provide security for an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team — the bomb technicians who disarm roadside bombs and investigate explosions.

By 2009, he was part of that elite team of experts who locate and defuse the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that now account for about 60 percent of all fatalities. Then, just before he deployed to Afghanistan, he came to an unexpected turn on the road to maturity: He found out he had a five month-old son. Johnny immediately took responsibility, giving his son Braiden his last name and updating his official paperwork to ensure Braiden would be financially secure if anything happened to Johnny. Then he left for Afghanistan’s Helmand Province.

Toward the end of the deployment, Johnny’s team found themselves on the edge of Safar village, where the Taliban had heavily mined the bazaar. In only five days, his bomb-disposal team discovered more than 50 IEDs. On the sixth day, after a short break from searching the bazaar for bomb-making materials, Johnny took a step away from the wall he’d been leaning against. His boot came down on a hidden IED. The explosion killed Cpl. Daniel Greer, badly injured SSgt. Eric Chir, and blew away both of Johnny’s legs.

When he finally reached Bethesda Naval Hospital, he was met by his parents, sisters, and longtime girlfriend Meg Garrison. They’d broken up after high school but had reconnected during Johnny’s deployment. Meg stayed with him during his entire recuperation. They’re planning to get married, but first, Johnny says, he wants to get over “this uncertain time in my life.” (PHOTO: Meg with Johnny, early in the recovery process)

He’s grateful to YRF, which has provided hotel rooms for visiting family, including Braiden, now two years old. Having a place where Braiden can stay with his mom while spending time with his dad means a lot to Johnny while he works on his recovery. (PHOTO: Johnny on an outing with his family)

After six months Johnny was walking on two prosthetic legs and working on regaining movement in his injured hands. Meanwhile, he was organizing peer visits from Walter Reed to Bethesda every two weeks so injured Marines could keep tabs on each other. Johnny has also worked with the Marine Semper Fi Fund and helped the Boot Campaign raise money for the injured. As a special thanks to the Yellow Ribbon Fund, he’s donating a John Mayer guitar for YRF to use as a future auction item.

Plus he’s back in school, taking classes every weeknight in the education center at Walter Reed. “Many service members are recognizing the opportunities offered by UMUC’s new program in cybersecurity, particularly in these challenging economic times,” said UMUC President Susan C. Aldridge. “It is especially gratifying that wounded warriors like Sgt. Jones, to whom this nation owes such an enormous debt, are being supported by fine organizations like the Yellow Ribbon Fund as they look to higher education as a way to achieve their dreams.”  –  Marie Wood

(PHOTO: Johnny working out)