As a youth, Mike Jones enjoyed raising the Stars and Strips at Salemburg Elementary School in the mornings. His principal Roger White showed Jones and other students how to do it around the flagpole.
“He got us on the path to become patriotic and to respect our country and the flag,” Jones said about the Air Force veteran.
For more than 30 years, Jones has served and fought for his country through the ranks of the Marines. He is now a sergeant major for the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command, which is located in Norfolk, Va.
“I’m grateful to serve God and my country as a U.S. Marine,” Jones said.
Jones is the senior enlisted leader for a command, which is about 56,000 active duty Marines and sailors. Their mission is to operate as a global force manager for Marine units.
“We do this by sourcing different Marine units and synchronizing with other headquarters type units so we can provide Marines that are trained and ready to answer emergencies, respond to crises from humanitarian operations to maybe full conventional combat,” Jones said.
The foundation for his success began in Sampson County, where he learned the value of hard work.
“That kind of training and upbringing really helped me in the Marine Corps,” he attested.
Jones grew up with seven siblings. His mother Lorie Dixie Jones raised them alone and worked 27 years as a housekeeper at Sampson Memorial Hospital in Clinton. She is semi-retired now but keeps busy working part-time caring for elderly people and doing charitable work in the community.
Together they worked and looked out for each other.
“For black people growing up in the South in the ’60s and ’70s, the opportunities were limited,” he said. “There was a lot of need to just depend on each other and the other people in the community. “
Family was a strong influence on him.
His six older brother and sisters served in either the U.S. Army or the U.S. Navy. His younger sister, Lorie Jones, graduated from Fayetteville State University and is a corrections officer at the Federal Women’s Prison in Raleigh.
Jones said to have a family with roots in the military is a great source of pride and a sense of belonging.
After graduating from Lakewood High School in 1983, he joined the Marines. He began as a private and worked his way up to achieve the highest position he could as sergeant major.
“The Marine Corps is a challenge every day,” he stressed.
His primary military occupation specialty was a scout observer. As such, Jones was responsible for locating the enemy and calling in artillery, naval gun fire, mortars and air support.
He’s served in Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. During his second time to Iraq and a third time to Afghanistan, he went as a sergeant major.
Jones has been a sergeant major since November 2000.
“I’ve been pretty fortunate to go through the different ranks to get to this point,” he said. “I’ve been pretty fortunate to survive combat tours.”
Jones said the military develops character, fitness, being prompt for appointments and being ready to do whatever job needs to be done.
“When you think about character, there’s a demand on military personnel that exceeds normal demands in society,” Jones said. “There are requirements because you have to work so closely with a team and you work often times in a life or death situation. So integrity, honor and commitment are very important attributes that we try to develop and instill in young people.”
Many refer to the Marines as the 911 force for the nation.
“We want to be ready when the nation is least ready,” he said.
Jones said that requires a high level of readiness across the board from physical readiness, mental alertness, communication and spiritual stability which comes with being able to face an enemy in combat.
“If you say that you’re ready to do your nation’s biddings, then the individual Marine has to be ready, as a whole person and work to accomplish the mission.”
The life of a Marine requires a lot of travelling. Jones has travelled to more than 30 countries for training.
“It allowed me to see the world and interact with foreign militaries and interact with foreign people in their communities, their homes and partake in culture and way of life,” Jones said.
But deployments and combat training comes with leaving family behind and spouses raising children alone.
“They have a lot of things that’s pressing on their minds, because you’re in danger or in harm’s way,” he said.
Jones has been married to his wife Angela for 25 years.
“My wife is a very important supporter,” she said. “When you think about a military spouse and when you’re in the service, you get order every two to four years. So you’re bouncing around all over the continental United States. You’re overseas and they can’t continue longevity with their jobs and they have to do interviews when they get to the next duty station and try to find a place that’ll accept them.”
Together they have three children - Brandon, Brittney, and Bradley, and two grandchildren - Brayden and Brielle.
His personal awards include the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal with two gold stars in lieu of third award, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with three gold stars in lieu of fourth award, the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service award, and the Combat Action Ribbon with one gold star in lieu of second award.
Jones has travelled around the awards and received many accomplishments, but credits family and other local influences such as his late third-grade teacher Mrs. Eloise Melvin.
He reflected on working in the tobacco field with his uncle A.W. McLamb teaching him the value of working hard. Jones had a great foundation in his church Mingle Hill Disciples of Christ Church, specifically with sunday school teachers Pearlie McLamb and Maggie Hooks.
“I had a lot of great Sunday School teachers and a sense of community,” he said. “When thinking about the pillars of readiness, body, mind and spirit – those are things that I got growing up and the Marine Corps were able to enhance as I’ve been in the service.”
His high school track coach Larry Bolger had a competitive spirit and made a lot of demands.
“It was a great way to get exposed to competition,” he said about the sport. “I was preparing to join the Marine Corps through that, so it was a great help.”
During his school years, he was also involved in 4-H.
There was no ROTC program, so military life was new to him. He recommends the program for any student looking to join after high school.
“It’s certainly gives you a head start,” he said about observing the program. “It’s like anything in life. We often times thinks that we can’t do something when we haven’t been exposed to things or taught things. The more exposure the better.”
While giving advice to younger people, he reflected on his mother telling him “don’t talk so much,” when he went to school.
“I kind of see that phrase as listen more than you talk,” Jones said. “Look, pay attention to things and you’ll be armed with knowledge, just from observation.”
Another piece of advice is to maintain a sense of humility to learn.
“Be teachable,” he said. “That requires a level of humility; so that when it’s time for you to do something, you really know what it is you’re supposed to be doing.”
His personal motto, which is the North Carolina state motto is “To be, rather than to seem.”
Jones believes treating people well and helping other are important character traits.
“You can go a long way in life and at the end of it, regardless of achievement, you’ll know that you did the right things and there will be a certain level of satisfaction and contentment,” he said.