Having a meaningful and enjoyable life doesn’t change just because something catastrophic or unexpected happens. Rob Jones is a retired Marine tasked with finding IEDs. On July 22nd, 2010, he was attempting to find an IED when his luck ran out and the IED found him first, resulting in a double above-knee amputation. Today, he shares how he was able to bounce back after his life-changing injury.
1:11 – Rob Jones introduction. Double Amputee OIF OEF Veteran, US Marine Corps, Professional Speaker | 31 Marathons, 31 Days, 31 Cities. http://www.robjonesjourney.com
5:48 – Survive, recover, use is Rob Jones philosophy.
6:17 – What was the attitude of Rob pre-Marine? Cared more about what was good for me. Lonely in college.
8:12 – Where was boot camp and who was the biggest prick? Paris Island? Sergeant Smith.
9:38 – What was your attitude when you stepped off the bus when you decided to serve in the Marines. Knowing what to expect didn’t make it any less scary. Listen and DO what you’re told to do and do it as fast as you can.
12:08 – How many brothers where you with in the Marines? 4 battalions. Each battalion has a couple companies. I was in Hotel Company. Each platoon had 90 recruits. 13 weeks boot camp. It’s not designed to make you quit. It’s designed to train you into being a Marine and molding you into a better self.
14:23 – Toughest day of basic? Never doubted that I’d be able to do it.
17:58 – What did you learn in boot camp? It’s not about you anymore. It’s about your country first and foremost. Be a part of something bigger than you
19:36 – Afghanistan. What was first day like? 92 Day Reservist is designed for people in college. Virginia Tech. 7-month long deployment. Al-Qaeda. Camp Leatherneck. Forward operating base. Hesco barriers fence. Bunkers that you build.
24:44 – What’s a day in the life of a Marine? Combat Engineer’s task was to go out and fine Improvised Explosive Devices (EID).
29:47 – How do you prepare your brain to sweep mines? The day that changed your life. Clearing Taliban. Seizing territory. Ammonium Nitrate.
37:30 – The Rob Jones Journey. Was there a story that moved you to create the Rob Jones Journey? What was the attitude lesson of that recovery period? Dan Cnossen, double above-knee amputee. Walter Reid. Rudy Garcia Tolsen.
41:39 – 31 Marathons in 31 consecutive days in 31 different states. Bronze metal in rowing. Marine Marathon.
47:17 – http://www.RobJonesJourney.com
52:08 – Today’s current world. What could shape the attitude of our nation. Pulling out of Afghanistan. South Korea. Taliban has blood alliance with Al-Qaeda.
57:36 – Is America at war from within? Are we in a more hostile environment than we ever have been before? Anti-American sentiment. Just because we don’t agree doesn’t mean we should hate each other.
1:01:09 – What do we need more of? Civility. Benevolence. Conversation. Trust in the government again.
1:02:51 – Closing message of hope. Mindset for victory. Top 2 lessons. Use the challenges as a weight to get stronger. Don’t resist the challenges. The key to overcome anything in life is selflessness. What is the thing that you care about the most?
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Rob Jones – Double Amputee OIF OEF Veteran, US Marine Corps, Professional Speaker
My Producer, Jason Jolliff, is with us in this episode. We have an extremely inspirational guest. We have a war hero that I’m sure he’ll never do it because most of our veterans never consider themselves heroes, but he is, and he’s just going to have to take that. When we talk about bridging the gap from who you are to who you want to become and from where you are to where you wanted to go, you’re going to learn a lot. You’re going to have insight a lot. You’re going to get attitude from this. We are with the one and only Rob Jones. He’s a motivational keynote speaker. He is our guest. Jason, let’s go ahead and pull up Rob on stage with a little quick introduction.
Having a good character is the most important thing. It’s who you are as a person. There’s nothing more important than that. I’m a retired Marine. I was wounded in Afghanistan in 2010. I was a combat engineer, primarily tasked with finding IEDs. On July 22nd, 2010, I was in Afghanistan attempting to find an IED. My luck ran out and the IED found me first. That resulted in a double above-knee amputation.
My mission for my life was still the same. I wanted to have a positive experience. I wanted to have an enjoyable life, and I wanted to have a meaningful life. That doesn’t change just because you’ve been injured. When somebody sees an example of what is possible for them, it makes it so much easier for them to rise to the occasion and achieve that. When I was in therapy, I had guys that had been there a long time before me for a year. I could see that they were walking, running, and doing all the things I wanted to do. It’s because I saw that, I was able to foresee myself doing it and then make that happen.
Here on the show, the one and only Rob Jones. Rob, what’s up? Welcome to the show.
Thanks a lot. How are you guys doing?
We’re good. We’re sitting here in Indianapolis. Where are you located?
In Middleburg, Virginia, in the Northern Virginia area.
With plenty of vets hanging out around Virginia, I’m sure.
There’s a big population here.
I saw you getting tackled by your son. I got three sons. How many kids have you got? That was so cool. It took me back.
Just one right now. His name’s Harry. That was his tryout video to try and make the Virginia Tech football team.
Did Virginia Tech have a huge win? Are you a Virginia Tech fan?
I went there for college, so I guess they’d be my team. I don’t watch a whole lot of sports, but they’re my team.
They put the smack down at home against the number ten-rated North Carolina. It was cool. They’re good. You might want to give them a watch. They’re fun to watch.
It’s always a lot more fun to watch when your team is good. I’m an Orioles fan as well. This season’s been painful.
That’s a recurring theme with the poor Orioles. Hopefully, that will change for you. I love what you said in the video that when people are able to see somebody else, they can feel that lift or help that they’re needing. Let me ask you this. I’d love to know what your definition of attitude is and who your first attitude coach is. Who gave you the attitude that you’ve had to come through what you’ve come through?
My definition of attitude is your mindset toward a situation or a person. My attitude probably is founded in the Marine Corps. I was a pretty different person in terms of attitude and mindset before joining the Marine Corps and then now. I learned the basis for what my personal philosophy and what I think about things these days from joining the Marine Corps and reading about the stories of the Marines of World War II and the Marines that came before me. The reason I joined the Marine Corps in the first place is because I read those stories and saw what was missing in my life.
When you mentioned your personal philosophy, what is your personal philosophy?
It’s everything that I think, but my personal philosophy in terms of my injury is to survive, recover, and live. It’s the three stages of facing any challenge. You survive the challenge, then you recover from it, and then you use it to improve your life to a point that it’s better than you thought it could ever have been. I try and show people that’s what I did. I use myself as a test case and do what I can to help people see that they can do the same thing.
Talk to me about Rob pre-Marine. What was the attitude of Rob pre-Marine?
It was more self-centered. I didn’t care about a whole lot besides what was going on in my own life. I wasn’t a bad person or anything, but I just cared a little bit more about what was good for me. That led me to a point where I was lonely in college. I wasn’t doing very well. I felt like there were pieces of my life that were missing. I wasn’t in a good place.
My friend had joined the Marine Corps the year before. I researched the Marine Corps to see what he was doing and was intrigued. I then read this book called Brotherhood of Heroes about the Battle of Peleliu in World War II. That’s when I read about these Marines exhibiting courage, brotherhood, and selflessness. I realized that was what was missing from my life. The best way to find those pieces was to join the Marine Corps and go to war.
Were you inspired by September 11th? You came in in ’03. Was that correct?
I signed up in 2005 and went to bootcamp in 2006. I certainly was impacted by 9/11 like everybody was. It was certainly a contributing factor, but I don’t think it was the driving force. It was more the personal search for missing pieces of my life and being part of a brotherhood with the added bonus that I was going to get the opportunity to go try and kill some terrorists that did that.
Where did you do basic and who was the biggest prick drill sergeant you had?
Everybody East of the Mississippi in the Marine Corps goes to Parris Island, South Carolina, and then everybody West of the Mississippi goes to San Diego Recruit Depot. All the drill instructors are dicks. That’s the idea, but there are different levels of dick. You have your senior drill instructor. He’s nice to you sometimes because he’s your main mentor. He’s like your dad, and then the other two drill instructors are like your older brothers.
They’re equally dicky and they just want to break you down, but between those two brothers, there’s the one that teaches you all the drill. He’s the guy you spend the most time with. He’s a little bit nicer. There’s the third drill instructor who just got there. He’s a new drill instructor and his whole job is to thrash you and make your life miserable. Sergeant Smith was his name.
I don’t know if you got off of a bus or a plane, but I always think about this had I joined the Marines. I know this goes through civilians’ minds. You step and you go, “Shit. I’m doing this.” Was there a wake-up call? Were you nervous? Were you scared? Were you all of the above? What was your attitude when you said, “Here we go, let’s do this?”
Certainly, it’s all of the above. I’m nervous and scared, but at the same time, I had prepared in that I had been physically training. I knew the physical fitness test involved and what I needed to be able to do. I was doing a lot of pushups, pullups, running, crunches, and that kind of thing. I had been getting in shape and preparing myself as much as I could. I read books about what bootcamp was like in order to prepare myself.
When I got there, I knew what to expect, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easier to endure. It makes it a little bit easier to endure when you know what to expect, but it doesn’t make it any less scary. I didn’t know how I was going to react, but they also make it simple for you. All you have to do is listen to what you’re told to do. Do what you’re told to do. Scream at the top of your lungs every time you open your mouth and do everything as fast as you possibly can. As long as you do that, then everything’s going to be okay.It makes things a little bit easier to endure when you know what to expect, but it doesn't make them any less scary. Click To Tweet
Were you an athlete in high school before or not really?
All the way through middle school, I grew up being an athlete, but then I had a late growth spurt in high school. I was 90 pounds in my ninth-grade year. I wanted to continue sports, but I just wasn’t making any teams. That discouraged me. I went from being into sports to being into computers. I went with that through high school. I went to Virginia Tech trying to major in Computer Science. However, through the personal stuff that I was experiencing at the time, I ended up majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies after I joined the Marine Corps.
When you go into the Marine Corps, how many brothers are you with? Are you with twenty guys that you’re with all the time? Is that 50 guys or 100 guys? I don’t know if it’s a battalion or a company. What’s the hierarchy there?
There’s the whole depot, and then the depot has four battalions. When I was there, it had four battalions. I don’t know what it is anymore. Each battalion has a couple of companies, and I was in the Hotel Company, which had three platoons. It had 3 to 6 platoons, and each platoon has 90 recruits.
You and 90 brothers walked in on day one together. How long does it take to become a “Marine” out of basic?
Bootcamp at that time was thirteen weeks. From day one to graduation day, it was thirteen weeks long.
After thirteen weeks, how many of the 90 made it through? Do you have any idea? What’s the ratio of that?
It was most of them. Marine Corps bootcamp isn’t like Navy SEAL BUD/S where the attrition rate is 80% to 90%. With bootcamp, the graduation rate was probably up around 90% plus because they make it hard for you to quit. You can quit, but it’s not something that they let you do easily. It’s not designed to make you quit. It’s designed to transform you into a trained Marine. They don’t want you to quit. They’re breaking you down and remolding you into what they need you to be.
How was the food?
It was good. I was so hungry for every meal that it didn’t matter. They only give you 2 to 3 minutes to eat. You don’t have a whole lot of time to taste the flavor. You get a couple of slices of bread, pile everything under the piece of bread, and you eat it like a sandwich.
Was there ever a day when you said, “I don’t know if I’m going to get through this?”
I don’t think there was ever a day where I doubted whether or not I’d be able to do it because the days don’t change a whole lot. It’s a pretty standard schedule. Once I recognized what the schedule is going to be, it doesn’t get a whole lot harder as I go through bootcamp. It probably gets easier throughout bootcamp because you adapt to the schedule on what’s happening and waking up at 4:30 or whatever and the PT. The hardest part for me was having to hold my pee because you’re drinking water constantly and you can only go to the bathroom at certain times. As weird as it is, that was probably the hardest thing.
I’m guessing people would just piss themselves, correct?
Yes, sometimes. You can usually ask for a head call, but if you did, you would get thrashed later.
That’s shit you were going to pay for, that privilege. What’s a day in the life of PT look like? Everybody that’s reading this is like, “I can’t get up. I can’t work out. I don’t know that I can do a 5K or walk around the block to get healthy.” Give me a little smattering of the physical requirements of a Marine day.
PT and bootcamp are continuous. You have formal PT sessions where you either go for a run or do pull-ups. You do calisthenics, obstacle course, and things like that. It’s body weight exercises mostly and Marine Corps martial arts training. PT in the Marine Corps bootcamp is happening all the time because that’s how you get punished. That’s how you are bonded together as a platoon. If you screw up, you end up doing pushups until your arms are noodles and they tell you to do more pushups. You don’t have a choice.
If they have some extra time and one of a million things that could piss off a drill instructor happens, like you move your eyes the wrong way, then they tell you to run over there. They say that you weren’t fast enough, so you have to run over there. They run you back and forth until they run out of time. You know it’s going to end because you know that there’s a training schedule that they have to s stick with, but they just run you or push you into exhaustion. You have to keep going, or they take you into the sandpit and they say, “We’re not going to stop doing pushups until everybody is pushing up.”
There are 90 people all in varying ranges of fatigue. At any given point, it’s hardly ever the case that everybody’s up in a pushup position. Everybody’s getting tired and dropping down, so they say, “We’re not going to leave here until everybody’s up.” Eventually, people figure it out, but you have to push it out for a little bit longer.
The sandpit does not sound like a fun place. Let me ask you this. What was the attitude lesson? You got through it. The answer may be obvious, but was there an attitude lesson or a mindset lesson that once you were done that you said, “Wow,” something clicked? There was a new thought, mantra, or a new philosophy. What did you learn?
There’s a lot of stuff that you learn in bootcamp that you probably don’t recognize at the time, but in retrospect, looking back on it, I can identify all these different things. The main lesson that they want you to leave bootcamp with is it’s not about you anymore. It’s about your country first, the Marine Corps second, your fellow Marines third, and then you. Your preferences and what’s important to you get dropped way down, but at the same time, because you have those three things in front of you in terms of importance, you are going to be able to get more out of yourself and accomplish greater things than you would if you put yourself first.
It’s because you’re more about your country, the Marine Corps, and your fellow Marines than you do yourself. If you’re doing something on your own behalf, just for you, then you get to a certain level, but since you have these three new things that are more important than you, then there are three more levels that you can go to.
That is attitude booster number ten in The ABC’s of Attitude book, which is to be a part of something bigger than you, and you lived that. You graduate from the Marines and get on a plane where you are deployed to Afghanistan first. Was that your deployment boom out of that, or did you do a little something in between? Give me that story. Also, what I want to know is when you stepped off that plane in Afghanistan, if that’s where you landed, what was your first day like?
When I got from bootcamp, I joined what’s called the 92-day reservist. It is a program for people in college. I had finished my junior year at Virginia Tech and went to bootcamp. Normally, the normal process would be to go to bootcamp, then go to your Marine combat training, and then you go to your job school and then you go to your unit. However, the way it happened for me was I went to bootcamp and then I went to my reserve unit in Roanoke, Virginia.
I drilled with them for a year while I finished my last year of college. The next summer, I went to Marine Combat Training, and then I went to combat engineer school. During that time, my reserve unit said they were sending a volunteer platoon to Habbaniyah Iraq in 2008. I volunteered for that deployment. That deployment was seven months long and we primarily were finding buried weapons caches. Al-Qaeda would’ve buried artillery shells, machine guns, and things like that in various places.
The local populace would alert us to those places. We’d go and find it, and then explosive ordnance disposal would get rid of it. I came back from that deployment, and my reserve unit pretty much immediately said they were going to send another volunteer platoon to Afghanistan. I volunteer for that deployment. That was in 2010. On my first day in Afghanistan and Iraq, too, you get off the plane and then you have to get to like where you’re going to be ultimately, but it takes a long time to get there because you have to wait. Iraq didn’t take that long because we were stationed right next across from the airport.
Basically, we got off the airplane, got on a truck, and were taken to our lodging, but in Afghanistan, we arrived and then we had to stay at Camp Leatherneck for a couple of weeks. We did a little bit of training and we waited for a helicopter to take us to where our forward operating base is going to be. It’s not like you get off the plane and you immediately get down on a knee and start shooting at the enemy. It’s a controlled descent into war.
It’s where you ended up. When you jumped on that helicopter, you said, “I’m getting ready to go into some stuff.” I’m guessing you probably went to some mountainous regions or some places you’ve never seen before. How many people were on your helicopter and how many people were stationed with you when you landed on that first journey?
The first helicopter was just transporting us with all of our stuff to this larger base. It takes a lot of different transportation to finally get you all the way out to the front lines or where you’re going to be ultimately. The first helicopter was from Camp Leatherneck to Camp Delaram. That was still another kind of a transportation movement where we had all of our stuff and there was no combat or wasn’t exciting. It was just like taking a flight from DC to New York. You’re just shuffling along and waiting your turn to get on and off.
We stayed there, and then we got on trucks that drove us through the desert to our forward operating base. That was probably a 6 to 8-hour drive. At the end of it, we were covered in this dust. At the forward operating base, there were two for us. There was one that was company-sized, which is three platoons and attachments, and then there was another one further out that I got sent to, which was one platoon, which is about 40 Marines or so. That’s where I spent the first half of the deployment in this 2 to 3-football field-sized patch of a desert surrounded by what we call Hesco barriers, which is basically like chain-link fence filled with dirt.
It’s meant to protect you or to be a barrier for the enemy or whatever it may be.
It’s like dirt bunkers that you can build with Legos for the war, kind of.
What’s a day in the life of a Marine after you get to where you’re supposed to be? Is it a twelve-hour workday? Is it a 24-hour workday? Are there days off? Does anybody give a shit about you feeling comfortable? Is it hostile? What are the emotions? What are the attitudes that are going on with your brothers that are there?
The situation when we got to this first forward operating base was different than later on. That deployment was broken down into two halves. The first half was the build portion of the clear-hold-build strategy or it’s the hold/build portion. We had a forward operating base already established. We sat there, and what we mostly did was go out on security patrols.
There were 4 squads of 13 Marines. They would rotate through their responsibilities. One squad would have security patrol responsibility for three days where they would do two patrols a day. They’d go out one time during the day and one time at night. It’s to provide security for yourself, do missions, talk to locals, and that kind of thing.
The other three squads would be either on rest or manning the posts around the forward operating base. For me, I was a combat engineer. My job was to go out and find IEDs for the infantry Marines that I was with. I spent most of my time going out on patrol. I was the only combat engineer there. Every now and then, I wouldn’t go on a patrol, but I tried to go on every patrol I could possibly go on because the IED threat was a real threat. I didn’t want to leave these guys without that asset.
Was intelligence the biggest way for you to find IEDs? Were there machine detectors? How do you go about finding an IED?
It’s all of the above. A local could potentially tell us. If we had a relationship that was good enough, they could say, “There’s an IED over there.” I don’t think that ever happened, but there is potential for that to happen. A lot of the time, they know where they are. Whether or not they tell you is whether or not they like you. The main way was through intuition and knowing the standard tactics of the Taliban.
They don’t have infinite IEDs. They have a limited number. What they would like to do was put their IEDs in the locations that they suspected we were going to go into. We call them choke points or danger areas. A good example is North of our forward operating base, there was a dry riverbed or dry creek bed called Wadi. It’s a 10 to 12-foot high walls that are straight down. We’re not going to go up to the wall and jump down and climb back up the other side, but every now and then, there would be little paths that had been worn by the locals where it goes down gradually and back up the other side.
The Taliban would know that we’re going to use that little bridge, that little section. If they were going to put any IEDs anywhere, they’re going to put them there. It’s like we know that they know that we know that they know the type of thing. If they know we’re going to go there, we know they’re going to try and put IEDs there, but they know that we know. It’s this back-and-forth.
Pretty much every time we would go up to one of those areas, I would sweep it with my metal detector. It’s like your metal detector and then you’re also using your eyes to try and discern whether or not the ground looks different than it should. It’s a learned skill, but luckily, there weren’t any IEDs that got planted in that first little half of the deployment.
How long of an arm does your metal detector have? I’d want it to be about 50 damn feet, but my guess is it wasn’t.
It was probably about 5 feet long. I would hold it in my forearm, and it would extend down 5 feet. The search head of the metal detector would probably be 1 to 1.5 feet in front of my feet.
That’s got to be nerve-wracking. I know it’s because you’re brave and that’s how you’re trained. How do you discern or mentally go, “Fuck it. I’m doing this. I’m sweeping it.” How did you do that? Not a lot of people could do that.
It’s what we were talking about before. These marines that are depending on me rate higher than my desire to not get killed by an IED. There’s no question. There was never a hesitation. It’s like if I was pinned down and or if I got shot by a sniper or something, these guys are going to run out and come get me. There’s that trust between us and that sense that they’re depending on me and this is what they need me to do, so I’m going to go out and do it. There was never any thought to the contrary.
That’s called a high level of trust. Talk to me about the day that changed your life. I think you said, “My luck runs out when the IED found me.” Talk to me about that day. What was going on before that happened, and what was the circumstance there?
We spent about three months in this forward operating base I told you about and were moved to a new area where we were performing the clear portion of the clear-hold-build strategy. It was an area that was controlled by the Taliban. We were clearing them out so that we could come in, build forward operating bases, provide security, and help the local populace there establish themselves in a secure environment.
As a part of that, what we were doing is we were doing was called a push. We would walk into Taliban territory with our vehicles, with all of our Marines, and just seize a territory. If they wanted to resist, we kill them or they would shoot and retreat or whatever. They knew that we were coming because of this whole back and forth we know they know type of thing.
When they see a bunch of Marines come into a base, they’re like, “Something’s about to happen.” They started putting their IEDs in the ground. There were IEDs all over the place to begin with because they were fighting the British there too. As a part of this, we were doing all sorts of different IED mitigation strategies. We would spend the day walking. We would seize compounds. I and other combat engineers and explosive ordnance guys would sweep the compounds and make sure there weren’t any IEDs in them.
We then would establish ourselves in these compounds and make them into forward operating bases. These are mud compounds with mud walls and mud buildings. We’d put sandbags on them and get them set up so that we could run operations out of them. We’d do that and then push a little bit further and further into the territory until we got where we needed to be. We did this one time, did some security patrols for a couple of weeks, and then we did another push.
It was on the second push that I was with a squad of Marines that was on the outskirts of the whole thing providing security on the flanks. As I said, there are IEDs all over the place. At one point, we knelt down to take a break and for the leadership to have a little strategy meeting. We stand up. The order of the patrol was the point man was first, and then it was me. The point man stepped on an IED. The second he stands up, maybe his first or second step, he steps on an IED, but the good thing about that was that the IED malfunctioned.
An IED has a pressure plate, and the pressure plate is connected to a blasting cap. The blasting cap goes into half a pen-sized piece of explosives that goes down into a jug of homemade explosives, which is usually ammonium nitrate. For whatever reason, the IED didn’t function correctly, and that little blasting cap went off. It’s like a little firecracker went off next to him, but we all knew what that was. It’s an IED. Where there’s one IED, there’s going to be 2 or 3.
That area immediately became a danger area. The likelihood that there’s going to be another IED is 100%. It then became my job to guide us through. I got out my metal detector and started sweeping back and forth and trying to find a safe path. This one second, I was using my metal detector. I take a step and then everything disappears. I was hit by the IED. I wake up probably 15 to 20 seconds.
From my perspective, I was sweeping for an IED and then I teleport to being on my back and screaming as you see in the war movies. All I could hear was screams. All I could see was tunnel vision. I was looking up at the sky. My smell and my taste were dirt. There’s this distinct stench that comes along with an explosion from explosives.
Chemically, it’s hard to describe, but it’s like a chemical smell and taste. I could taste that in my throat and everything. My legs felt like there is a painful numbness like how you fall asleep on your arm and it hurts if you fall asleep on it for long enough. It was that magnified by a few hundred times. I wake up screaming, but after about twenty seconds, I guess the endorphins in my body take over and I calm down. That’s when I can hear my fellow Marines. They’re yelling at me that they’re coming.
Everything’s going to be okay, but they can’t run right over to me because there’s probably a third IED somewhere in there. They had to get another combat engineer to come over, sweep to me so they could come over, put tourniquets on my legs, and then transport me to a tank. The tank took me to a helicopter, and the helicopter took me to the surgical area of Camp Leatherneck.
Did you remain conscious during this trip?
Not the entire trip. I wake up and then I’m conscious from when I woke up twenty seconds after the IED blast into the point that they put me in the tank. They gave me something to put me to sleep.
That day changes your life, and that day begins this thing called the Rob Jones Journey.
The story’s chilling, but I know you aren’t the only guy that this happened to. I know that you probably think about similar guys that have the same. Do you have any idea how many soldiers went through what you’ve gone through?
I don’t know how many double above-knee amputees there are. Tens of thousands of people have been hit by IEDs. I’m just guessing there. I’m not sure what the exact statistic is. You say it happens over there, but this kind of thing happens here. People lose their limbs and have these traumatic injuries in cars. They’re mowing their lawn, they slip, and their foot goes underneath and gets their foot chopped off. This thing doesn’t just happen in war. It happens to all sorts of things.
It’s like farm accidents.
People make their fireworks and mess them up. They blow their hands off. There are all sorts of stuff that happens like that here too. It’s not only the veteran either.
As you were rehabbing and doing the therapy, was there one person or story that moved you, inspired you, and helped take you to the next level to create this thing known as the Rob Jones Journey? Was there a soldier that you met that had the same thing? What was their attitude and what was the attitude lesson of that recovery period for you?
I’d say there are probably a couple of people that I used as influences in that way. The environment at Walter Reed in the rehab clinic was a communal effort to get everybody through recovery and everybody doing as well as they could. As part of that, when I was a week or two in the hospital, I got a visit from guys from Walter Reed that came over and answered questions for me. They were wearing prosthetics. That was my first experience with seeing these people that were wearing prosthetics and knowing that I wasn’t going to be in a wheelchair forever.
When I got to the clinic, there was this guy named Dan Cnossen. He was a Navy SEAL double above knee amputee just like me. He had been there about a year longer than I had been there. I saw him doing everything that I wanted to be able to do every day in the clinic. He was by himself. He didn’t have a caretaker. There’s nobody looking after him. He was totally independent.
He got in there and worked out. He did his workout and left. He went on with the rest of his life just like he had a normal life like it was before. Seeing him enabled me to perceive what was going to be possible for my future. It was a lot like the Four Minute Mile or climbing Mount Everest, and all these different things where you see something firsthand, and then you know it’s possible for that person, so it can be possible for you.
The second guy was named Rudy Garcia-Tolson. He was somebody I found out about when I was trying to learn how to ride a bicycle because there weren’t any double above-knee amputees that were able to ride a normal bicycle at Walter Reed. Rudy was the only one in the whole world. When I wanted to try and do that, I watched videos of Rudy and met Rudy. Again, it was another situation where, “If he can do it, then there’s got to be a way for me to figure out how to do it too.”
When I think about the Rob Jones Journey, there’s a stat that I saw. I still can’t believe it, but after meeting you, there’s probably no doubt that this happened. You did 31 marathons in 31 days. Is that every day? Is there a story there?
It was all consecutive. It was 31 marathons, 26.2 miles, and 31 consecutive days, all in different cities around the country. I have proof.
Was that with your new set of legs?
That was with my running prosthesis. I learned how to run in therapy. That’s what I used to do it.
Talk to us about how in the hell did that come into your crazy head. We’d love to know, “I think I’m going to run 31 marathons in 31 days.” What was the purpose? What was the mission? What was your attitude when you said, “I’m going to do this?”
After I retired from the Marine Corps, I got into Paralympic sports. I won a bronze medal in rowing in 2012. It got me into using sports as a tool. I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, but I used it as a way to rediscover my own self-reliance and self-confidence. I established that through rowing. I saw how powerful the image can be of a guy that was wounded in Afghanistan and is doing all these kinds of physical things that he shouldn’t be able to do or people wouldn’t expect him to be able to do.
I saw how powerful that could be, so I decided to use the bike riding that I learned in therapy to continue that. That’s when I rode my bike across the country. With that, I also saw how I can raise money by doing these things, too, for causes that helped me in my recovery and then are continuing to help other veterans. After the bike ride, I wanted to do another one of these things. I had run the Marine Corps Marathon in 2015 for fun.
That reminded me that I had a talent for running and it showed me that I could run a marathon. I also saw how many eyes are on marathons. It’s this thing in sports and the running community that is one of the pinnacle things to try and do. Everybody’s like, “If I could run a marathon one day, it was this big achievement,” and it is. At the same time that all this is going on, I’m also noticing in the veteran community especially that in pretty much all the stories that you see in the media and movies, TV shows, there’s 1 in 2 veterans.
If it’s at war, the movie, or the story, then the veteran’s the Spartan hero that is this super admirable person and they’re with their brothers. They’re this heroic persona, but the other veteran is when they get home and it’s that same guy, but he’s now a basket case because he can’t process. It wasn’t what I was seeing in my friends and my community of veterans and my battalion.
I didn’t want to say that’s not a story that happens because it does, but I felt like it was a story that was getting more play than what happens in reality. All I wanted to do was I wanted to make sure that both sides of that story are getting out there. Yes, there are some veterans that come home and have trouble processing the war because it’s the most awful thing that you can ever experience, but at the same time, there are vastly more veterans that come home and they are able to process that.
I wanted to make sure that both of those stories got out there. My underlying cause was to create this story that people and veterans could use, and then ultimately, civilians could use as well that you could experience this extreme trauma and, afterward, thrive from it and become stronger from it. That’s the story I wanted to get out there.
The way that I decided to tell this story, exemplify the story and prove this story was by creating my own story where I’m a double above-knee amputee that experienced this trauma and then I came back home and I ran 31 marathons in 31 days in 31 different cities on behalf of my fellow veterans. I am doing something more meaningful than I ever thought that I would have before. That was my underlying cause.
Is there a web link that we can promote? Is there a way for our GAPers and our readers? If they were so inclined to donate to what you’re doing for the causes that you have, where would you suggest that we go to support what you’re doing?
My website’s RobJonesJourney.com. All of my social media is @RobJonesJourney on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I don’t think I have to donate links up there anymore, but the causes that I was raising money for were Semper Fi Fund, Tunnel to Towers Foundation, and the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes. They all have websites where you can go and donate there.
That’s so awesome. I hope that our GAPers go to all three of those sites to support what you’re doing. How’s your wife through all of this?
She’s fantastic. I met Pam in 2012 at the Paralympic Games. She was rowing for England and I was rowing for the United States in a different boat class. We met there and hit it off. We started dating a year later long distance. We did four years of long-distance and then she finally moved over here. We went through the whole green card process. We are still going through the whole green card process.
Now, we live in a house that was given to us by Tunnel to Towers Foundation. It’s a lot like what you all are doing to give us a mortgage-free home. She operates a farm on the property. We have 13 acres. I’m working on my memoir and we’re raising Harry. As you said at the beginning, I’m trying to get as many speaking engagements as I can to continue telling this story to as many people as possible.
I have been watching the Paralympics. It’s incredibly inspirational. It’s very cool. Have you thought about going back and competing, or are you too damn old and too tired? Tell me one of the best experiences or stories that came out of the relationships and the associations that you had when you became a bronze medalist in rowing at the Paralympic games.
I’m retired from competitive sports. One of the reasons I stopped rowing was it was a little bit too selfish for me. You have to be selfish in order to be the best in the world in sports, a lot of the time. You have to prioritize your training and your rest needs. It didn’t have the right greater purpose for me. I decided to retire from it because it didn’t feel right. That’s why I moved on to doing the charitable athletic stuff because I still liked using sports and doing physical challenges.
Meeting my wife is the most meaningful thing that happened from it. Also, I met my rowing partner Oksana. You should definitely have her on your show. She’s won ten Paralympic medals now. Also, my rowing coach, Brad Lewis, and Roger. I met them, and they’ve been mentors to me. It was the first step in a path that I took that step, and then that step led me to the bike ride, which led me to the monthly marathons, which led me higher and higher. It was the first of those many stepping stones on the way to where I am now.
Are you a religious guy?
I’m not. I never grew up with religion or anything like that. A lot of the things you find in the Bible and a lot of the things that people believe that are religious are probably pretty similar to the things that I think in terms of how to behave and how to treat people, but I’ve never really come from it from a higher power type of perspective.
Let’s talk about this world. You deserve to say anything you deserve to say, and you are welcome to say it here. Pretty monumental time, it was monumental in the pullout. What’s your overall take? What’s your personal take on the withdrawal and how do you feel America’s doing? If you could be president tomorrow, what would be the 2 or 3 things you think could shape the attitude of our nation to improve the attitude of our nation? Afghanistan first and your overall thoughts and strategy there. If Rob Jones becomes president next week, what would be the three things you think we could do to raise the morale and the attitude of our country?
In terms of Afghanistan, in my personal opinion, pulling out is a mistake. We should stay there and take the time to do the job that we should be doing. That is building Afghanistan into a strong country that can stand on its own two feet. It’s disappointing to me that we seem to have this shortsighted view and a lack of will to do that job.
It’s almost a bit of ignorance about what that kind of thing takes and the reason that we were there in the first place and how that hasn’t changed. What we were trying to do over there isn’t something that can happen in twenty years. I know that’s a long time to be at war, but it’s not something that happens in that timeframe where you take a country from being in the 7th century and trying to bring it to the 21st century and stand on its own two feet with a populace that has been oppressed for the longest time.
That’s not something that happens in twenty years. It happens in a generation or maybe even two generations. You can draw comparisons to South Korea. South Korea twenty years after the armistice was nowhere near what it is now, but we decided to keep troops in South Korea. We keep them in Germany. We keep them in Japan. I don’t understand why we wouldn’t keep them in Afghanistan, too, because that’s the forefront of the war on terror.
If we don’t keep fighting terrorism on their ground, they’re going to come over here. The thing is we may be done with that war, but they’re not done. If you tap out in jujitsu and the other guy decides that he doesn’t care that you tapped out, he’s going to snap your arm in half or he is going to choke you to death. Both parties have to be willing to stop. I don’t think that the terrorists are willing to stop. They’re going to keep going.
The sheer horror, the vile behavior, and the hatred of America are real. I don’t think anybody knows that except the men and women who went over there to defend us. I’d like your opinion. The Taliban hasn’t changed. I love all the news stories, and I’m not a soldier, but, “There’s this new kinder and friendlier Taliban.” I’m sitting there going, “Is this complete bullshit? Are they going to be training tens of thousands of people to come to do harm to America?” These are not nice people, correct?
No. They have a blood alliance with Al-Qaeda. They’re one and the same. The number two guy in the Taliban has his own terrorist network. That’s one of the most disappointing things to me about the pullout. You can have your opinion about whether or not we should withdraw. I think 99.9% of people, maybe everybody, but Joe Biden think that the withdrawal was a travesty. It’s okay to make a mistake in that regard. You can have a mistake with your pullout. It’s disappointing, but it can happen but the worst part of it is the lack of ownership of the mistake. The excuse-making and blaming of other people including previous administrations for the mistake and the lack of strategy.
Also, trying to rationalize why it wasn’t a bad pullout and then rationalize why the Taliban is our friend now. We are treating them as these benevolent people, even though before they were still trying to kill us. Doing all that makes the deaths of the service members even more unbearable because of the behavior of those in charge of this pullout.
On a scale of 1 to 10, do you believe that America is at war with forces inside our own country, the anti-American sentiment? Is there a greater global economic enemy or a greater global enemy that truly believes that a weaker America pluses for everybody outside of America? I believe we are at war. We were being attacked. Is Coronavirus a biomed attack? Are we going to see more? What’s your gut as a Marine? Are we in a more hostile environment than we have ever been before? Should our attitude be that of positioning and being prepared to defend and attack if needed? What’s your gut?
I’m not an expert in these subjects, so anything that I say should be taken with a whole mountain of salt. There are certainly other countries out there that would prefer to see our country be weaker because it could interfere with what they want to do with their country, so yes, certainly. We’re fighting terrorist forces across the world, throughout Africa, throughout the Middle East, and everywhere. All of them would prefer to see a weaker America. We have to stay ready to fight those battles. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the last war. We have to be ready to fight the future war as well.
How do you deal with anti-American sentiment amongst our own citizenry? How do you deal with that?
It’s one of those things that you have to accept. It’s a freedom of speech issue. If you want to have your own thoughts, that’s fine. If somebody came to my house and we were having dinner and they had those kinds of sentiments, I would have a discussion. The biggest problem in the country now, in my opinion, is the fact that we can’t talk anymore to each other without people being offended and insulted on both sides.The biggest problem in the country right now is that we can't talk to each other anymore without people being offended and insulted on both sides. Click To Tweet
If somebody came into my house and said something racist, then that would be offending. If somebody came into my house and said something that was anti-American, that could be offensive, but I’m not going to be offended. I’m going to instead have the discussion, educate, get to the reason, and just be civil. It’s a civility thing.
Just because we disagree doesn’t mean we need to hate each other, which is what it all comes down to.
If somebody came in with an anti-American sentiment, I try and get to the root of why they feel that way. I try to change their mind and be open to their point of view. It’s unlikely I’ll ever come around to anti-American sentiment, but I’ll listen to their point of view and have that discussion. I will try and change their mind but be open to what they’re saying too.
Now, you’re President Rob Jones. What would be the three things that you would like to do if you could be a dictator president in America to make things better? What do we need most? I know that you thought about running. You did run. You lost in a primary. What are your thoughts on either turning this around or making things better? What is your opinion?
We need civility. In terms of government, we need civility between lawmakers. It’s this constant battle of who can be more offended and more benevolent. They are making enemies with each other. We need civility in the conversation there. We need to trust the government again. Most people don’t trust that their congress people, their senators, and the president are looking out for the country. Most people feel like politicians are looking out for their political careers. We need to change that. We need the political leadership to be selfless again and make themselves the fourth person in line of importance. Also, their career put that even further down. Those are probably the top three things.
What I’m hearing from you is that we could put all of the legislators on a plane, send them to Parris Island, recondition their thinking, and things might be better.
They might get an attitude adjustment that could be beneficial.
Rob Jones, it’s been such a pleasure. It’s certainly such an honor to interview you and to talk with you about your experience and your attitude. I always love to give our guests a quick minute to talk to our GAPers, our country, and our civilians and/or the fellow vets that are still out there. If you have a message of hope or if you have any words of wisdom that can stick with our GAPers and with the people that are reading this now, what would you like them to know about you, your service, and how to maintain a positive attitude? Also, how to create that mindset for victory and for selflessness and whatever it may be. The floor is yours for any closing statement to our people.
I’ll share the top two most important lessons that allowed me to do this whole story that everybody’s reading, the millions of GAP fans that have read this blog so far. The first one is, and I’m sure you’re familiar with this, you use the weight. It’s about using the challenges in your life like you use a weight in the gym. When you have a weight on your shoulders, you don’t just sit there and hold onto it because, eventually, you’re going to run out of energy and run out of effort.
It’s going to wear you down more and more. Eventually, you’re going to fall flat on your face with that weight across your back. That represents stresses and challenges. The stresses are going to be weighing you down and pinning you down to the ground because you didn’t do anything with them. You tried to resist them for as long as you could. That’s one option. The second option is you take that weight that’s on your shoulders, that challenge or that difficulty, and you put it to use you. You lift it over your head. You strict press it, and you do it again and again.Take that weight, challenge, or difficulty that's on your shoulders and put it to use. Click To Tweet
Every time you do that, you adapt to it a little bit more. Because you adapt to that first weight or that original stress, now you can handle even bigger weights and bigger stresses further on down the line until eventually, it gets to a point where there’s not enough weight in the gym that you can put on that bar that you can’t lift. Also, there’s not a challenge in this world that’s going to come your way that you’re not going to be able to handle and process.
The second aspect of it is the key to overcoming anything and accomplishing anything in life. The ability to get yourself to lift that weight instead of resisting that weight is what we’ve been talking about this whole time, and that is selflessness. It is figuring out who the person is, what the place is, or what the thing is that you care about more than yourself.
It’s those three things that you put above yourself and that hierarchy that you care about more than yourself and figure out why they are depending on you being successful. Also, why their dependence on you necessitates you to use that weight or to do the thing that you don’t want to do or to do the difficult thing. If you can figure that out, then you will get more out of yourself than you ever could have if you’re only worrying about your own personal preferences. That’s the key.
Amen to that, my good friend, Rob Jones. That was awesome. I love those final two. Use the weight and be selfless. Attitude booster number ten is to be a part of something bigger than you. Rob, it’s been an honor. Thank you again for your service. Thank you for your sacrifice and every brother and sister that you fought with over there. I can’t wait to see what you’re going to pull out of your hat. Thanks again for being with us.
- Rob Jones
- Brotherhood of Heroes
- The ABC’s of Attitude
- @RobJonesJourney – Instagram
- Twitter – Rob Jones Journey
- Facebook – Rob Jones Journey
- Semper Fi Fund
- Tunnel to Towers Foundation
- Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes