The military is just complicated. Everyone is not in the Army. There are more branches than just the Army. What?
Jonathan “Jon” Barnes enlisted in the Navy in 2000 and served the county until 2016 when he retired. He was in Afghanistan 2009-2010.
He decided to join because he knew he wanted to serve. He had a few cousins and two great-uncles who were in the Navy. He said there are a lot of answers on the reason he wanted to join the military.
He considered all the branches, but he liked the versatility in the Navy.
He wanted to know more about guns so he first signed up to be a gunner’s mate and then crossed over to master at arms after 9/11. It was a fit for him and the job opportunities were more open as far as the Navy went when he joined.
He had a lot of different duty stations. He laughed when he started to name a few of them. He started in Great Lakes Naval Base, then went to Little Creek, Virginia, and then on to Diego Garcia in 2003. Diego Garcia is a tiny island in the middle of nowhere in the Indian Ocean. At this location, they had munitions they were guarding that were being dropped as part of the War on Terror.
From there he went to Guam. He started on the road as patrol and moved to harbor security. He was there 2 years before he went to Texas. He also did some patrol work there and moved to training and the anti-terrorism office.
In the anti-terrorism office is where Barnes learned about the global support assignment. This gave him the opportunity to volunteer to go to Afghanistan. They trained them for a little bit of everything.
They went to Fort Bliss and Camp McGregor before deploying. They learned about land navigation and the combat skills program. It was done to help the Navy integrate with its Army counterparts. It was a blended team.
Just before this assignment, he was sent to Fort Leonard Wood to do the protection school because their mission was guarding the Commander, International Security Assistance Forces (Com ISAF). That was for General Stanley McChrystal. This position was vacated several times under President Obama.
Barnes said he was part of a detail with the Army and Navy combined to protect the general and his staff. The man they were in charge of protecting was the top U.S. commander and NATO commander. Their organization was centered out of Kabul, Afghanistan.
“It was important that nothing happened to him and that we go with him where he needed to go when he needed to be there,” Barnes said.
He was not sure how to describe what he did, but he explained that they were essentially very "in-depth chauffeurs." They had to check the route, know the routes and be aware if anything detrimental was going on in the area they would be traveling. Their mission was to get the general and his staff where they needed to go and get them there as safe as possible. At all costs they had to keep him and his staff safe from being injured or kidnapped.
At one point, they were to watch over retiring British General Sir Graeme Lamb. He had been knighted as well. Barnes said he was a character. He was becoming a civilian in a U.S. position. He fell under their protection.
He completed some separate missions where he was a personal security adviser. He would be outside of the team and they did their own kinds of visits.
Aside from worrying about the normal dangers of a combat zone, the potential of explosions was very high. Their gate was blown off the hinges at one point and they were fortunate. The wall took the blast like it was meant to.
Continuing to where he went, his following tour was in Naples, Italy. He was again providing protection for the NATO commander who was U.S. Admiral Sam Locklear and Admiral Harry Harris. They were “loaned” to NCIS for that and his chain of command was civilian.
He executed missions frequently in a number of places in Europe and a couple places in Africa. He has been to four continents and about 20 countries. He said it was hard to keep up with them all.
When it gets cold, he always recalls a trip to Norway where the temperature was a whole lot colder than here. Norway at Christmas is not warm, he said.
His last tour was in Pensacola, Florida. He was not ready to come back from overseas. He was ready to be closer to family, but he had become accustomed to a certain operational tempo. Stateside was not the same for him. He admits that he overworked himself getting into the collateral duties and taking on too many jobs.
“It is hard to put a finger on what it is," he said. "It is so different. I guess things that matter are questionable. Even when you’re not worried about getting blown up, there is something different about priorities overseas versus here. You make adjustments to get used to doing things a certain way and when you rotate back stateside, it does not translate somehow.”
For the majority of the time he was in the Navy, Barnes was an E6. He continued to stay because he liked it. All the advertisements that seemed cheesy,were accurate.
They changed the slogan so many times and he cannot remember what it was when he joined, but he remembers “let the journey begin” and “it is not a job, it is an adventure.” He said looking back, the slogans were not wrong.
He was somehow never really on a ship. He did have to do the second-class swim qualifying. He did the third-class swim crawl in boot camp, but to be a harbor patrol coxswain, he had to do the second-class swim crawl.
He recalls a crew going overboard on a submarine while he was working as the harbor patrol coxswain. His team was there specifically as security not as rescue or anything like that. It was not their job. In fact, the Coast Guard was on the other side of the submarine. Their boat was several hundred yards away, like it was supposed to be.
He remembers it sprinkling that day and the crew spoke about the rain. It had been raining on and off all day long. There were just three members. He went to comment about it being bad for those on top of the sub and wondered why they were not below deck.
About that time, they just hit the swell of this wave just right as they were speeding up and the sub dove into the trough of the wave. The guys who were on top of the sub just vanished. When it came back up, they noticed that they had washed down the side of the submarine. They were tied or chained to the deck. There were three of them and a rescue swimmer. They were just drug down the side of the boat, and he assumes the chains just snapped which caused them to be floating in their safety equipment.
Barnes and his guys had to go rescue the sailors. He had to call the submarine to let them know their crew was overboard. They rushed to the rescue as quickly as they could. There were two on their side and one on the other side. The rescue swimmer and the Coast Guard picked those two up and came to their ship to get the other two. Their Coast Guard ship was more equipped to putting the crew back on the submarine unlike the boat Barnes was on.
He found out that there was bad weather from the day before which made the water rougher than it normally was. There would not normally be swells there, but it was a weird combination of events that led to them having to rescue the crew that went overboard. The crew that went overboard did not have communication for them to call back to the submarine to indicate they had been swept overboard.
Being in the Navy, Barnes was glad to serve his county. During his time in, he earned several awards, including 6 Navy Achievement Medals and a Defense Meritorious Service Medal.
For anyone who is interested in joining the military, he recommends that you do your research. You should prepare yourself for the journey and do your best.
His family is spread out now. His 16-year-old son, Jonathan Barnes, lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and his 3-year-old daughter, Claire Barnes, is in South Carolina. He lives in Albertville now because he grew up in Gadsden and his mother and father still live in the area.
Now that he is retired, he is going to college full time. He is currently attending the University of Birmingham. He has just switched his major to political science. He went to Pensacola State and earned his general associate's degree. He did not know and still is not sure what he wants to be, he jokes. He lacks about a year before he will graduate.
He likes having time with family now and he would like to try something different. That is the reason he is going back to school.
He enjoys golf, but he does not play very well. He wishes he could fish more but is not good at it either. It has been a long time since he has been fishing. He does a lot of homework and procrastinating on that homework. He enjoys watching movies at the movie theater and not just war movies.