From NCO to CEO: Master Sgt. Mark "Ranger" Jones

Article excerpt

NOT many people afraid of heights would jump our of an airplane willingly. Most people don't live our of their car for two years. But chats exactly what Mark "Ranger" Jones was doing when he began his Army career. Jones is a retired master sergeant and chief executive officer of the Ranger Group, which started as a security firm and grew to include work in construction and information technology. Created just a few months after Jones left the Army, the Ranger Group is now a service-disabled, veteran-owned 8(a) company.

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As Jones puts it-he's "living the dream."

One of the central philosophies of the Ranger Group is to give everyone the opportunity to do their best, Jones said. He hires as many veterans as possible to give them that chance, because they are flexible workers who "can deal with anything."

The ability of current and former Soldiers to adapt to any situation comes from their character--some thing Jones learned as a noncommissioned officer.

"You can't judge an individual by how much money they make, but you can always judge someone by their character," Jones said. "Those are core competencies of an NCO that I was taught, that I believe in today and I'll carry with me until eternity."

Having veterans working for the company gives the Ranger Group an advantage that corporate America doesn't have, Jones believes. Ultimately, Jones would like to educate veterans in business so they can eventually start their own companies.

Married to his high school sweet heart, Lorrie, Jones joined the Army in his sophomore year of college because of his wife's medical condition. After Lorrie suffered a aneurism, he wanted to be able to provide her with good medical benefits, so he went to a recruiting station. The only recruiter present at the time was from the Army Jones said.

"He goes, 'when do you want to come in?' I said 'tomorrow.'"

The recruiter suggested that he join the Army as a cook with the Airborne Rangers. "Well, I had no idea what an Airborne Ranger was. Nobody told me that I would have to jump out of a perfectly good aircraft," Jones laughed.

"I ended up going to Fort Lee and completing cook's school and then (was) on my way to Fort Benning (where) I had to go to jump school, which I didn't know. I show up at jump school, and I see the guys jumping out of towers, and it's looking exciting, and all of a sudden I get off the bus and everybody's calling me 'airborne, airborne!' I had no idea," he said

The next day, Jones was one of the Soldiers in line to jump off of a tower He managed to stick to the back of the line and never got off the tower, but his strategy didn't work when the Rangers took to the air. Jones explained the planes were loaded back to front, and what he thought was the end of the line was actually the beginning.

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"I was completely and totally petrified of heights," Jones said. Nevertheless, Jones forced himself out of the plane (with no lack of encouragement from his trainer) and took the plunge. "It was probably noon, but it was my first night jump because my eyes were closed tight the whole way down."

At the time he was recruited and for some time after, Jones was living out of his Volkswagen. Money was tight, but he felt fortunate that the Ranger battalion leadership gave him the opportunity to take care of his family while still being 100 percent involved in the military.

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"Living in a car was a completely unbelievable experience," Jones said. …