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Gen. Jones utilizes dedication and persistence to win Pentagon war

After enduring hundreds of combat hours in the skies over North Korea in the early 1950s, GEN. DAVID C. JONES fought his toughest battle after retiring from the U.S. Air Force.

In the mid-1980s, the Minot State University alumnus led a universe-shaking overhaul of the Pentagon shortly after serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"When I was in command jobs, I was unimpressed," Jones said in a telephone interview. "The system was too structured, too bureaucratic and needed to be changed."

Jones dedicated himself to the reorganization of the Defense Department. When he retired in 1982 as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs , he went directly to Capitol Hill, sidestepping senior military leaders. Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, he declared the American military machine broken.

Jones' bombshell got the attention of Rep. Bill Nichols, (D-Ala.), who quickly put Pentagon reform at the top of the Congressional agenda. Over the service chiefs' objections, the House passed three reform bills over the next several years, but all three died in the Senate. Sen. John Tower (R-Texas), the powerful chairman of the Armed Services Committee, blocked the measures.

Jones remained undaunted. He continued to press the issue in a low-profile, methodical fashion.

"It took years," Jones recalled. "We'd get a setback. Somebody would come out against it. We would just bide out time. It took a heck of a lot of time."

During the legislative battle against the huge, heaving Pentagon bureaucracy, Jones became a pariah within the clubby military culture. He remained characteristically unfazed.

"The secretary of defense, the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff all recommended against what I was trying to do. It didn't bother me at all," the feisty 90-year-old said.

In 1985, powerful reinforcements came to Jones' aid — Sens. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) and Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), members of the Armed Services Committee. The veteran politicians quickly found themselves in the military's crosshairs. Service chiefs charged them with trying to jeopardize national security. The senators refused to be bullied.

The Senate passed the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act in 1986 by a vote of 95-0. The House passed similar legislation 383-27. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law. Jones' steady resolve forged a new Pentagon template.

"Sam Nunn and Barry Goldwater were invaluable in bringing it to fruition," Jones said. "I was fortunate to have the right people at the right place at the right time."

The Gen. David C. Jones Room at MSU displays his military memorabilia.

Under the new law, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs became principal military adviser to the president and secretary of defense. The once-omnipotent service chiefs were reduced to an advisory role. The change improved the quality of military advice given to the president and the readiness of the nation's combat forces.

The 1991 Gulf War provided the initial test for the integrated structure. It functioned flawlessly, as U.S. commander Norman Schwarzkopf exercised seamless direction over the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines in liberating Kuwait from Iraq.

Jones' feat is a notable victory in modern military history. It was won with quiet persistence, emblematic of a no-nonsense man from the vast and silent plains of the Dakotas.

To read this story in its entirety or more like it, visit the Spring 2012 Connections Magazine [pdf].