Former Park City High student’s wartime letters published
As Jared Jones strolls into the Student Union Building of the University of Utah with a backpack of books on his shoulder, the former Park City High student and current U of U film major, looks the part of a college kid ready to enter the real world.
But Jones, 25, already has a lot of real world experience as a former Utah Air National Guard helicopter pilot in Afghanistan. He also documented his experiences, in letters home, recently published in the book, "Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families."
Jones sent weekly e-mails of his day-to-day life in Afghanistan to his wife Amie, who posted them on her Web page for family and friends. It was these letters that Jones later sent to the National Endowment of the Arts sponsored anthology "Operation Homecoming." Jones’ story was one of 100 chosen out of more than 1,200 entries. The book contains letters, journals, poems and humor written by U.S. military personnel and their families during deployment in the Middle East.
"I have spoken to Andy (Andrew Carroll, the editor of Operation Homecoming) and his whole mission is simply to ensure that Americans better understand what the troops and their families go through on a day-to-day basis," Jones said.
Jones served a tour of duty piloting an Apache attack helicopter in Afghanistan, a helicopter Jones describes as "one mean machine," armed with rockets and guided missiles, with guns capable of firing 600 rounds-per-minute.
But it was not fighting Jones relished, it was helping the Afghans. In his free time, Jones and soldiers from his battalion chose to bring humanitarian aid to a village. He is now working with friends to organize an orphanage in Afghanistan.
"I was drawn to the people of Afghanistan the day I got there," Jones said. "I think 95 percent of them are good people who want a good life." Jones, along with other members of his 1/211 Utah Army National Guard battalion, wanted to help.
"We adopted the village of Jegdalek. After that everything changed. I found my purpose in going to Afghanistan." Humanitarian aid was approved by U.S. military officials. Food, clothing and supplies were flown in. Medical aid was provided by military doctors. "Our Battalion was called the ‘Air Pirates,’ but we’d like to think we were giving more than we were taking," Jones said.
Jones grew up in Park City, admiring his father Ken, who has been a Utah National Guard helicopter pilot for 14 years. At one point, the elder Jones asked Jared, "Hey, do you want to join the Guard?"
"Why not," the younger Jones said. Father and son were deployed to Afghanistan together in the same unit, both flying Apache helicopters, both providing security for Bagram Airbase.
"I was lucky. I thought I might have to take a life, but it didn’t happen," Jared said. Not that his job was out of the action. Jones said that Bagram Airbase was targeted by rockets constantly.
Both Jones and his father worked during their off time helping the villagers of Jegdalek. At the end of their tour of duty, Jared and his father returned to Utah together, just as they had come.
Jared Jones and a friend, Justin Morris are co-directing a documentary of Jones’ Afghan experiences and plan to submit the film to the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Jones and Moms are editing 80 hours of film footage shot in Afghanistan. With permission of his superiors, mounted a video camera in his helicopter, and also filmed much of what he and fellow battalion members experienced in Jegdalek.
Jones still serves in Utah’s Air National Guard, and flies helicopters once a week. His father, still with the Guard, is returning to Afghanistan to pilot an Apache for one year.
Jones and the other contributors to ‘Operation Homecoming’ were invited to a special premiere and book signing event at the Washington, D.C., Library of Congress recently.
Jones summed up his feelings about the Middle East. "Things would be a lot different if we were constructing rather than destructing."
For more information on Operation Homecoming or to donate tax-free dollars to Jones humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Hotel occupancy in the Park City area during Sundance is projected to drop dramatically from a typical year as organizers shift the event online.