Staff Sgt. Brian Jones, chaplain's assistant, Task Force Durable, Afghanistan

AFGHANISTAN - He trains in the rain and mud, maintains a functioning weapon, rucks while wearing up to 70 pounds of gear and wears a multicam uniform that blends into the mountains of Afghanistan.

He is a U.S. Army soldier but what sets him apart from the rest? He is the only one who bears the weight of protecting himself as well as his chaplain. Next to God, the chaplain's assistant is the only thing standing between the chaplain and the enemy.

In 1909 the U.S. Army required chaplains, who are commissioned officers and non-combatants, be provided an enlisted man to serve as his assistant and often times, his bodyguard.

"I am his shield from harm," said Little Rock, Ark., native Staff Sgt. Brian Jones, chaplain's assistant, Task Force Durable.

"The number one purpose for a chaplain's assistant is to provide security," said Task Force Durable Chaplain (Maj.) Mijikai Mason. "Regardless of where I am or what I'm doing, his primary goal is to provide security for me and toward me. In other words, sometimes he has to direct me where to go so that I stay safe."

The chaplain provides religious services and counseling, among other things, to soldiers and has his assistant there to help make that possible. He ensures religious supplies are available, advises the chaplain on the morale of the soldiers and trains religious support teams.

"I am not a counselor but half the things I do for soldiers is just listening to them," said Jones. "I provide an ear to listen to the soldiers' problems. I encourage them to talk to the chaplain, I give them the resources and show them what's available to help them with their issue."

Currently serving in Afghanistan and with two prior deployments to Iraq, Jones said his 14 years in the Army as a chaplain's assistant have been challenging, unpredictable and rewarding.

"We're proactive in a lot of areas but a lot of what we do is reactive," said the father of three. "You don't know when somebody's marriage is going to fall apart. You don't know when somebody is going to make a mistake they need advice about. You can anticipate that but you may have a day when no one wants to talk and you may have a day when 10 people are lined up outside the door."

The job as a chaplain's assistant requires a soldier to work unpredictable hours under high-stress environments whether deployed or at home. For Jones, he said his decision to serve in the military as a chaplain's assistant fit what he wanted to do along with what he felt he was called to do.

Jones said, "I serve because I've always wanted to serve my country. Later on in my teenage years I felt a calling to the ministry. My instructor informed me about the chaplain's assistant job in the Army and at that point I found out I could serve my God and my country at the same time. That is why I serve."

Throughout his career, Jones has worked in several different elements and locations across the Army. From units at training locations to combat brigades, his wide array of positions have enhanced his experience as an noncommissioned officer and chaplain's assistant.

"In the chaplain corps, we have several tracks that a person can specialize within and we have the same among our chaplain's assistants," said Mason, who is a former chaplain's assistant. "They can serve at the installation level, the division, brigade, battalion level and clinical levels. He has almost every experience as a chaplain assistant that is needed to know how to work those levels and that's rare. For referral and religious accommodations for soldiers' needs, that experience is a huge contribution to the team."

Mason and Jones make routine visits to the local mortuary affairs where Task Force Durable soldiers receive and honorably process the remains of fallen warriors prior to being sent home to their families. It is in this area in particular that Mason said Jones' experience proves invaluable.

"One of the toughest parts of our mission is the mortuary coverage," said Mason. "It requires a lot of spiritual and emotional maturity to be able to handle those things. Having someone who knows how to care for the wounded, nurture the living and honor the fallen is invaluable. He not only knows how to do those things but he knows how to do them with the right level of passion and that's important. That part of his experience is irreplaceable."

Whether it be at the mortuary affairs or at a basic combat training unit, Jones said caring for soldiers is a highlight of his day-to-day job. He said he has one exceptionally fond experience with a Soldier that stands out in his mind.

"I had one soldier call me their angel," said Jones,

Jones said he was working at a basic combat training unit at Fort Jackson, S.C., where the soldiers have to negotiate Victory Tower.

Victory Tower is an obstacle which stands 70 feet tall. The tower has a 40-foot rope cargo net for soldiers to climb up and a 40-foot rappelling wall for soldiers to descend down.

"I love running all over that tower," he said. "I would look out for the soldiers who were showing signs of fear and I would go and walk them through it. I explained to them that fear, as long as you don't let it control you, is good because it makes you more aware of your surroundings."

He said one particular soldier climbed about halfway up but got stuck and was bear-hugging the ladder. He said he got a few rails away from her and got her to focus on him, then look up and focus on getting to the top.

"That was a Saturday and on Sunday morning she testified in church that the night before climbing Victory Tower she prayed for God to send her an angel to get through the obstacle course because of her fear of heights," said Jones. "She told the church she believed I was that angel she prayed for. I don't consider myself an angel but that was pretty cool."

As the brigade chaplain's assistant, Jones is responsible for mentoring, training and coaching the chaplain's assistants in subordinate units. From his experience in the career field in addition to working with junior soldiers, Jones said he has one piece of advice for those looking to join the military in the same career field.

"If you don't believe in supporting other people's religion, then don't do this job," added Jones. "As chaplain's assistants, like it or not, we are a part of the ministry. We ensure soldiers have the opportunity to worship according to their faith. We add to that when we have a particular faith ourselves. I think it would be hard to support something you don't believe in."

Jones said he plans to retire in six years however one lesson he will take with him from his career is a greater appreciation for diversity in different religions.

Page last updated Thu February 7th, 2013 at 00:00