By Jennifer Villaume, Baton Rouge Army Recruiting BattalionMarch 18, 2013
IUKA, Miss., -- From a dusty road in the middle of Iraq to a football field in Mississippi, Dustin Jones knows the meaning of Army Values.
A former Soldier, Jones is now a paraprofessional for the special education department and the defensive coordinator for Tishomingo County High School.
Coach D, as his students call him, started the Army Appreciation football game held at the end of September to demonstrate to his players about how to live the Army Values every day.
In 1997, Jones was sitting in a college classroom and realized how the next part of his life was opening up to him.
Right after that class, he went to a recruiting center and enlisted into the Army Reserve as a cavalry scout (19D).
"I did not have any connections to the military at all. I just decided after class to join," he said. "I knew it was what I wanted to do."
A year later, he transferred to active duty after completing training at the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, Calif., and was assigned to Fort Benning, Ga., as part of a new brigade reconnaissance troop.
He deployed to Kuwait after 9/11 and crossed the border into Iraq in 2003. For the first engagement of the liberation of Iraq as part of Delta Troop, 10th Calvary Regiment, Jones was awarded two Army Commendation Medals with Valor and the Bronze Star.
Jones reenlisted, gaining one more deployment, this time to Afghanistan. On reconnaissance patrol, his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb. His injuries resulted in a medical discharge in 2007. After his hospitalization and recovery, he moved home and applied to nursing school.
"I want to be able to apply what I have learned in the medical side of the Army to help people," he said. "In the back of my mind, though, I knew I wanted to coach."
His brother, Lanny, is a special education teacher and head coach at Tishomingo County High in Iuka, where Dustin accepted a position, finished nursing school and jumped into coaching defense.
"A lot of the kids do not have a father figure, so to be able to apply what I have learned in the Army gives me a chance to show the students that they can grow up to be something and do something outside of here," he said. "I teach from experience, but let them make their own decisions and learn from their own choices."
"One of the big things I wanted to do is bring the Army more into the school, and have this football game to show them more than what is in the county. You get a choice of options in the military and get to go to college," he said. "I tell them to be a model citizen in the community, because believe it or not other kids will look up to you. You can be 0-10 in football, but the younger kids will look up to you because you are a football player."
As a paraprofessional in the special education department and defensive football coach, Jones had to achieve a balance. His paternal side comes out during his work with autistic, mentally impaired and hearing impaired children, and his Soldier side comes out when he gets on the field to direct plays.
But the Army Values he applies to both, especially honor, respect and personal courage.
"I get to help two kids that are autistic become more social and feel more accepted. I take them out into the community," he said. "The parents have told me how much it has helped their kids."
He teaches teamwork by setting an example. He is close to his family, often bringing his daughter to games, and he leads the football team on and off the field.
"We try to stress with the football team the Army Values and show them life lessons. I talk about the Army," he said.
Other teachers and faculty have also picked up the tools the Army offers to help their students.
Tiffany Lowrey, senior guidance counselor, has implemented March 2 Success in her counseling to juniors, seniors and other faculty as part of preparatory work for college and beyond.
"As a counselor, I have really pushed March 2 Success. I talk to the seniors at least once a month and give them scholarship and other beneficial information," said Lowery. "I have also told our subject area teachers about the SAT online practice tests and they are always eager to get their hands on new review material for the state tests," she said.
The genesis of the Army appreciation football game developed from Jones and his brother wanting to involve the community around the school and the Army.
"Some kids shy away from the military, and Lanny and I look to help the kids feel more comfortable around uniforms," he said. "We want to show that there is a human side within the uniform and show that there are jobs and options outside of the town."
Jones also wanted a venue to showcase the Army Values.
"The game brings it back into a circle and makes the military more human, not that the recruiters will just sign them up to go to war. I want to dispel that notion and show them it is only about 10 percent that sees combat," he said. "That is what they see on movies and social media. It is not about shooting people or getting that first kill like I did; it is about brotherhood and teamwork, pride, respect."
Tishomingo County High School is a feeder school with students from three counties. The brothers have built the Army values and ethos into the attitudes of the football team and program, helping the players realize they are one team and working together toward a goal.
"You can see something in the kids the week of the Army game that I have not seen in the past couple of weeks. It is more of the idea of that they are playing for the values we have been talking to them about," he said.
At the pep rally the students and faculty were revved up by recruiters tossing T-shirts in the crowd. But what Jones did not know, was that he was receiving the U.S. Army Community Service Award from the Baton Rouge Battalion for his efforts in the Army Appreciation Game and for displaying selfless service to his students every day.
"There is something special about being a Soldier and after you join, you are Army Strong. If you want to make that commitment, and challenge yourself to be something bigger than what you are, think about Coach D," said Lt. Col. Doug Reynolds, Baton Rouge Battalion commander, before the presentation. "And after you get out of the Army, you become a veteran and are committed to helping your community. That is what Coach D is now doing by putting together this Army appreciation night.
"I wanted to share this with you so when you see Coach D in the hallways, you can know that what he did to serve this country is a big deal. Take it from me; I am standing next to a fine Soldier."
The gathering of students, faculty and administration was moved by a brief account of his Army story.
"Dustin does an outstanding job working with our students on and off the field. He loves his job and the kids, and it shows," said Lowery. "He is definitely an asset to our school, and we're proud to have him."
More than 5,000 people came to watch the Braves battle the Amory High School Panthers under the Friday night lights in their Army ACU-inspired uniforms. The Panthers wore black and gold Army towels on the field in solidarity to honor the spirit of the night. And many took the Army Strong Challenge with local Booneville Company recruiters.
"It touches the other schools, too, that we have pride and citizenship in our school. The fact that we are doing this out of respect is what draws all of the communities together," said Jones. "It is overwhelming for me to know that we are doing this, and it brings me back to my brotherhood in the Army."