Specialist Bruce Jones with his family on two weeks of R and R.

Active Duty - 02/05/2010

By Jackelyn Severin

Bruce Jones is serving in Afghanistan with the 211th engineer company. He’s been there for almost three months now. Just after News Years he came home to South Dakota for a few weeks on leave.

I sat down with Bruce Jones in his house in Sioux Falls. Bruce’s brother Herb Jones and his sister Jan Pappone joined us along with his wife Jennifer and their five-year-old daughter Kate, who was a little microphone shy. She did manage to say “Daaaaddeeee,” after a little coaxing from her mother.

The 211th has only been in Afghanistan for a few months but Bruce says clearing the roads between Afghanistan and Pakistan is becoming easier and faster as they learn more about the land they travel and its people. Bruce says they do not have much contact with the local Afghanis but they are building a relationship with the Afghan National Army.

“Everywhere we go they’re right behind us and they drive Ford Ranger pickups for crying out loud. It's not like they are in MRAPS,” says Bruce.

In the past few months Bruce’s unit experienced its first close call. While running a route clearance mission an IED exploded beneath one of the vehicles.

“As soon as it went up you’re thinking oh man what was that. You hear the windows shaking, the vehicle rattle. That couldn’t have been good. So you try to look around as best you can,” says Bruce, “I could see that the Buffalo was in a pile of smoke. As soon as the dust started to clear you could see that they passed over the top of an IED. It blew up, blew the back axel off the Buffalo, blew all of our stuff off the outside of the Buffalo and left a big crater in the road.”

Bruce says after a few minutes he heard the voices of the soldiers inside the Buffalo over his radio; they were fine. The mine resistant vehicle had protected its passengers. Bruce says this is a testament to how safe the vehicles are.

“It gives you added boost. You think it’s going to cost the army a lot of money but we’re going to be alright.”

Bruce says the technology the 211th uses will blow your mind but he is equally impressed with the technology he uses to communicate with folks back home. 

“It’s hard to believe that you can turn on a camera and film something and within hours have it on the internet and somebody sends you an email and says hey I just saw that. That’s pretty neat.”

Bruce Jones provides regular video blogs on the website.

Bruce’s sister and his wife Jennifer say technology definitely helps with the long distance.

Jan Pappone says, “When we were snowed in over Christmas we were on live messenger with him. We spent a couple hours talking to him Christmas Day, which is just unheard of when you think somebody’s fighting a war. And so you’ll look for that to know that you know they won’t really, he’s not going to be gone ‘cause he’s still with us.”

Jennifer Jones says, “We’ve just been, pretty much been talking, chatting on Facebook, typing back and forth. And Kate, oh my she types a lot of, well, she doesn’t know how to spell a lot so it’s a lot of Kate, Kate, Dad, Mom.”

Bruce’s brother Herb and sister Jan remember writing letters to Bruce when he served in the Military twenty years ago.

“You know a phone call used to cost a fortune. Today you can get on the computer and see him live and talk to him and email and Facebook and all those types of things so it makes the world a smaller place,” says Herb.

Jan says, “It’s completely different than wars in the past. It’s almost like he’s not in a war even though he is. Because you see his room, you see all the other people, you see his Christmas tree, the gifts you send over. It’s amazing that you can just talk to him and it’s like he's not in Afghanistan.” 

Something else has changed from past wars. Herb and Jan can now see first-hand footage of Bruce’s life in Afghanistan.

“He’s not Dan Rather,” says Jan.

“Well, it personalizes it. I mean when you can see it in their world, you can see it through their eyes, its different than someone else telling you about it that you don’t know. And so it is kind of a first-hand way of seeing and having an appreciation for it that’s far more personalized than anything you’ve ever had before,” says Herb.
Herb points out that not only have the videos changed the way he sees the war but technology in general has made him feel more connected to it.

“Just with the internet, I mean if they are talking about a community that he’s near whatever, you can get on Google, find out about it. See what’s going on. You have probably a better, just understanding of the lay of the land and the landscape that he’s working in.” 

Jan says she does see one problem with this.

“I don’t know if we realize the danger that they are in. To us, I mean when we see it on the screen or the monitor it doesn’t even seem war-like. But we don’t really see, you know, when they’re really down. It’s just completely different from what your concept of what war is. At least my concept of what war is,” says Jan.

Jennifer Jones says having Bruce far away is still very real to her. For her the videos are two-edged. She doesn’t watch a lot them because it is a reminder of what Bruce is doing but seeing the comradery of the 211th engineer company does help.

“See we’re all, well I think we are, all a little scared about what’s going and everything but he seems, I mean he and the guys he’s with, they’re all so confident and they rely on each other. And they, and I mean they know what they’re there to do and they stick together,” says Jennifer, “We just have to have faith everything will be fine. They know what they are doing.”
Communication technology may lessen the sting of long distances and help us learn more about the war but Jan, Herb and Jennifer say it still does not change the fact that Bruce is half a world away doing an extremely dangerous job.   





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