"As a Ranger, you are trained that you need to "drive on" and to "shoot, move, and communicate" in order to survive on the battlefield," says ViacomCBS Chief Veteran Officer Richard M. Jones. He has done just that in his successful transition from injured veteran to champion advocate. "I knew that I had to do something."
ViacomCBS Corporation employs nearly 1000 veterans, and Jones is at the helm. An Army veteran who served in both the 75th Ranger Regiment and 10th Mountain Division as a squad leader, he oversees all of ViacomCBS's veteran outreach and messaging efforts.
"Our goal is to make sure that the sacrifices of our Nation's veterans are never forgotten and that we are doing all that we can as a Company to promote their (and their families') well-being," declares Jones, who, as an Officer of ViacomCBS, also holds the titles of Executive Vice President and General Tax Counsel.
Several family members influenced his passion for service. His two brothers served in the Army, and his paternal grandfather was awarded the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts during WWII. On the maternal side, his grandfather served as a member of the 721st Railway Battalion in the China-India-Burma Theater, and his grandmother was a Navy nurse at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. His father, who served in the Army as a member of the 16th Military Police Brigade during the Vietnam War, was diagnosed with terminal cancer during Jones' senior year of high school.
"Before he died, I told him that I was going to join the Army to help support the family." Jones first enlisted as an 11B (Infantryman), was assigned the rank as a private (E-1), attended infantry and airborne training at Ft. Benning, and then attended the Ranger Indoctrination Program at Hunter Army Airfield.
Graduating from Ranger School was a high point of his military career, especially given the fact that he had nearly completed the grueling course a year earlier, but was injured and had to be recycled back to day 1.
A more serious injury would change his course forever.
Nearly four years after enlisting, he suffered fractures to his legs, coccyx, lumbar and cervical vertebra after a parachute malfunction during an airborne assault training exercise. "The most negative moment [in my military career] was when Colonel Bruce Van Dam, the Army's Chief of Orthopedics at Walter Reed Army Hospital, and Colonel Jack Keane, then Assistant Division Commander 10th Mountain Division, told me that my military career was over," says Jones. He faced great pain and physical limitation, not to mention the disappointment of losing the long military career he had planned. "It was a very dark period for me."
Unsure of his next path, with no training beyond high school and the Army, he took an occupational test that showed accounting as a potential career. A week later while visiting the Syracuse VA Hospital for an MRI and ENG, he stared at the Syracuse University campus out the window. "I decided that this was my ‘shoot, move and communicate' moment. A long walk on crutches over to the Whitman Building was all that it took."
Professor Horace Landry, head of the accounting program and WWII Veteran of the U.S. Navy, listened to his story. He listened to Jones' concern about transitioning to higher education and encouraged him to work hard and persist. "There is an old saying that epitomizes this chance meeting," says Jones. "'Everyone needs someone to give them the courage to be what they are meant to be.'"
He went on to earn his Bachelor of Science degree (summa cum laude) as well as his law and business degrees from Syracuse University. He also received a Master of Laws degree from Boston University School of Law.Today, In addition to being a Certified Public Accountant, Jones is admitted to practice before the Courts of New York, Connecticut and the District of Columbia and licensed to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Tax Court, among others.
His best advice for today's transitioning veterans is to find mentors like Landry and follow their path to success. "Veterans need to continually build a network of positive people in their lives who will help them achieve their goals." He appreciates the challenges particular to the 2.5 million post 9/11 Veterans returning from war and believes “the issues that Veterans face are a microcosm of the issues that face our nation.” Today, in addition to dealing with the ongoing issues of transition, veterans now face the challenges of a global pandemic.
"Each one of us has the power to make a huge difference," says Jones. "At the end of the day, it is the small cadre of committed veteran advocates who always have, and always will, make the greatest impact in the lives of our transitioning service members and their families."