RICHMOND, Va. -- After enlisting in the Air Force Reserve in 2007 and serving more than a decade in the intelligence field, Master Sgt. Anthony Jones decided to make the jump to the Virginia Air National Guard to pursue a new challenge: cyber intelligence.
Jones is now a cyber intelligence section chief for the 185th Cyber Operations Squadron, Virginia’s first cyber squadron charged with defense of the Air Force Information Network.
“When the squadron was established, it was a rare opportunity to dive into a new arena of intelligence in the greater Intelligence community,” said Jones. “It was and has been a challenge so far, but I feel fortunate and blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of something big than myself and in defense of others.”
February is African American History Month and this month, the Virginia National Guard is highlighting stories from the Soldiers, Airmen, VDF members and civilians who make up our organization. Jones, who is Black, said serving his country as a person of color is a reason to be proud and motivated.
“It gives me pause to think of the men and women of color that served before me. They paved the way for myself and others to allow us all to go beyond the ‘glass ceiling’ that previously slowed many of them down,” explained Jones. “Because of that, I feel it’s my obligation to shatter any and all barriers in front of me so that no one behind me will ever have to wonder what they could have been given the opportunity.
“For example, Lloyd J. Austin III shattered several barriers by obtaining the rank of a four-star general and later becoming the first African-American to serve as the United States Secretary of Defense. This is proof that we can be anything that we want to be!”
Jones started his journey to overcoming obstacles early in life, growing up in the American South in Spartanburg, South Carolina, a textile mill community. With aspirations of becoming a geophysicist, Jones was told he ‘wasn’t college material’ by a high school guidance counselor.
Jones drew his inspiration to overcome from a personal hero, motivational speaker Leslie “Les” Calvin Brown. Brown, a Black man, overcame social and racial challenges from a young age to become a successful professional communicator.
“Les Brown was born into poverty, abandoned as a child and told that he wouldn’t amount to anything by educators,” said Jones. “In fact, he was declared ‘mentally handicapped’ while in grade school. In addition to this, after overcoming his educational challenges, he decided to enter a career in public radio and was repeatedly unsuccessful (fired three times).
“Yet, through all of this, Les Brown has gone on to become one of America’s best-known and highest-paid motivational speakers.”
Jones worked hard to follow Brown’s example, forging his own path towards his career goals, citing some of Brown’s motivational lessons like, “Strength from within,” “Find a way,” and “Have faith in your plan!”
“Les Brown’s story not only inspired me to go on to college but to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in Geophysics.”
Jones now holds multiple degrees and has graduated from multiple military specialty schools. His military success comes after working for four years prior to his enlistment as an unexploded ordinance geophysicist, work that eventually helped him decide to pursue a career in the military.
“I have always had someone, friends or family, around me that was associated with the military. Given that, I think that serving was always going to happen,” explained Jones. “It wasn’t until I started working side by side with former service members looking for unexploded ordnance (UXO) that I really gave it serious thought.”
Jones acknowledges the African Americans who have served before him and who have broken barriers, and said it’s important to recognize those heroes during African American History Month.
“We are all standing on the shoulders of giants!” emphasized Jones. “To celebrate Black History is not solely about celebrating who they were, but celebrating what they did and how it will continue to echo in the present and future.
“Mary Jackson (NASA) shattered expectations not only as a person of color but also as a woman living during a time of both extreme racial and gender inequality. Her strength highlights that we are all powerful beyond measure. We can all be more than what the world thinks that we can be!”