On May 2, 2011, a well-coordinated U.S. military special operations unit swept into Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden, the most notorious terrorist in American history.
Thirty years earlier, the top-ranking military officer in America, Gen. David Jones, from Minot, N.D., laid out his plan for streamlining and coordinating the military branches that later helped lead to the success of the 2011 Pakistan raid, as well as other military missions.
Jones served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1978 to 1982, and one of the biggest issues that needed to be addressed at the time of his appointment was the parochial or self-serving vision held by the top commanders of each branch of the U.S. military.
“Jones recommended a sweeping reorganization of the nation’s military command, moving to strengthen the chairman’s role while curbing rivalry among the services.” His proposal called for all of the branches of the military to work closely together so that the best strategy, personnel and equipment were used for any action that required urgent military involvement. Heeding his advice, Congress passed the “Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act,” which streamlined the military chain of command and made military actions more effective.
During the Korean War, Jones led the 19th Bombardment Squadron in over 600 bombing missions. After the war, he spent the next six years as an officer with the Strategic Air Command (SAC). On Aug. 15, 1959, he began his studies at the National War College, located on the grounds of Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C. Those admitted to the War College were military officers who were “likely to be promoted to the most senior ranks... (and would) exercise a great influence on the formulation of national and foreign policy in both peace and war.”
Jones graduated in June 1960 and, on July 16, was named chief of the manned systems branch of the SAC in Washington, D.C., where he oversaw the B-70 bomber project. In what appeared to be a surprise move, Jones took six months off, at the age of 43, “to learn to fly fighters.” He returned on March 18, 1965, and “assumed command of the 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing at the Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) in Florida."
From October 1965 to January 1969, Jones served as a commander of the American Air Force personnel assigned to NATO in Europe. He was then reassigned to the headquarters of the 7th Air Force command and control organization at the Tan Son Nhut Airfield in South Vietnam, where he served as vice commander and was also deputy commander for operations.
Jones only remained in Vietnam for six months, but it was long enough for him to observe the many “problems caused by inter-service rivalry.” He believed that much more could have been accomplished if there had been close planning and implementation between the different branches of the military.
On Aug. 24, 1969, Jones returned to the SAC as commander of the 2nd Air Force, headquartered at the Barksdale AFB in Louisiana. In 1971, Jones was promoted to a four-star general, having ascended to this rank from colonel in only five and a half years. He was sent to Europe and put in command of the American Air Force for NATO, and while there, he also directed an international planning team that integrated all of NATO’s air forces into a more cohesive organization.
On July 27, 1974, President Richard Nixon selected Jones to be the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, which automatically made him a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Jones “pursued a policy of developing high-technology weapons systems,” as well as reorganizing the Air Force command structure, which “substantially reduced the headquarters staff.”
Despite the fact that Jones was able to make great progress in modernizing and reorganizing the Air Force, he was bothered by the fact that at the Joint Chiefs of Staff meetings, there appeared to be a limited effort with the military chiefs to work closely on cohesive projects and strategy. In 1976, Jimmy Carter was elected president, and he agreed with Jones that all of the branches of the military should strategize jointly and work closely together to implement their military plans.
On May 31, 1978, Jones was awarded the Order of the Sword, which is considered the Air Force’s “highest honor for officer leadership” and is a special award for “non-commissioned officers to recognize individuals that they hold in high esteem and they wish to honor.” Three weeks later, on June 21, President Carter appointed Jones as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where Jones served as the senior military adviser to the president, the National Security Council and the secretary of defense.
According to Kathy Franklin, the daughter of Gen. Jones, her father “really loved working with President Carter.” In June 1979, Jones accompanied Carter to Vienna, Austria, for the final stage of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty II (SALT) negotiations with the Soviet Union. Both men were concerned that the Soviets might soon meddle in Iran because they had already invaded neighboring Afghanistan.
Many Iranians had bitter resentment toward America because, in 1953, the CIA backed forces that overthrew Mohammad Mossadegh, the prime minister of Iran, and replaced him with Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, who was pro-Western and anti-Communist. In 1979, revolutionary forces in Iran forced the Shah to disband his government and flee to Egypt. The Shah was suffering from advanced cancer, and when President Carter allowed him to come to the U.S. for treatment, resentment from many Iranians toward America exploded.
On Nov. 4, a group of rebels seized the American embassy in Iran and took the occupants captive. Negotiations to get the embassy personnel out of Iran did not succeed, and when 52 hostages remained in captivity in April 1980, Carter decided to launch a military mission, known as Operation Eagle Claw, to try to rescue the hostages. Jones was concerned because of a “lack of a joint command to train forces for such a mission.”
However, on April 4, the mission was launched, but because there was a severe desert sandstorm on that day, several helicopters malfunctioned, including one that crashed into a large transport plane, killing eight American servicemen. The mission was aborted, and it proved that Jones was correct in his belief that better planning, coordination and training were needed to conduct these kinds of missions. He took no comfort in his correct assessment, but was “really devastated” about the failure of the mission.
Congress heeded Jones’ recommendations and passed the Goldwater-Nichols Reorganization Act. President Ronald Reagan reappointed Jones as chairman in 1980, and he served one more term before retiring from the Joint Chiefs of Staff on June 18, 1982, and from the Air Force one month later.
Throughout his military career, Jones always considered North Dakota his home. Besides a host of military awards, Jones received honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1974, Louisiana Tech University in 1975 and Minot State College in 1979. He also received the Sioux Award from the University of North Dakota in 1985 and North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award in 1982.
Gen. David C. Jones died on August 10, 2013, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at firstname.lastname@example.org.