Congressman Walter B. Jones (R, NC-3) took some time from his schedule to discuss his work on the House Armed Services Committee, and today–in a first for the Navy and Marine Corps blogosphere–we’re pleased to offer USNI Blog readers an opportunity to put a more human face on the leaders who spend their days crafting defense legislation.
In this interview, Congressman Jones–pictured on the right, visiting Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy–talks about his work with the Marine Corps MV-22 program, while, over on the Springboard, he chats about the QDR, superbases, the War, and, of course, his Marine Corps constituents from Camp Lejeune.
Congressman, you were elected to Congress in 1994, and you’ve been deeply engaged with the Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey program. Might you be so kind as to give our readers a review of your long history with the Osprey program?
Shortly after the unfortunate crash of the MV-22 on April 8, 2000, I attended a memorial service in honor of the pilots at MCAS New River. Representative Mike McIntyre, General Charles Krulak and Lieutenant General Fred McCorkle were also in attendance. I was seated directly behind Connie Gruber and her daughter Brooke, the family of Major Brooks Gruber. Across the aisle sat the family of Lieutenant Colonel John A. Brow. During the memorial, I could feel the hurt and pain this tragedy had on the families of these fallen heroes.
When the Marine Corps issued its press release on July 27, 2000 regarding the crash, I received a call from Connie Gruber expressing concern that her husband was being blamed for the accident. I was extremely empathetic to her concerns after attending the memorial and became very interested in the program. It was then that I began asking questions.
You’ve taken a very personal interest in the unfortunate April 8, 2000 MV-22 crash that killed 19 Marines, including one young pilot from North Carolina, Major Brooks S. Gruber. A few months later, when then Marine Commandant—and now National Security Advisor General James Jones—unveiled a memorial to those Marines, you were the only Congressional Representative who bothered to attend. You’re now working to exonerate the pilots on that unfortunate flight, Major Gruber and Lt. Col. John A. Brow. Why have you put so much energy into understanding this incident, in particular?
My passion for this issue is directly related to my experience at the memorial service. It is difficult to meet a child of one of our fallen Marines and know that they are going to live the rest of her life with the sentiment that her father was to blame for the deaths of several other Marines.
Have you made any progress in exonerating the two pilots?
Absolutely. This has been an almost nine year effort with help from a large number of people who are familiar with the V-22 history and process. I have had the pleasure of working with engineers, experts, pilots, and numerous others who have assisted me in this endeavor. The United States Marine Corps has included the 17 facts from my Memorandum for the Record in the Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) of the late Lieutenant Colonel Brow and Major Brooks. I have also introduced legislation, H. Res 698, that includes the language from the Memorandum. I will continue to encourage the Navy to accept the Memorandum and to amend the JAGMAN investigation and the AMB report.
Some bloggers, like military.com’s Jamie McIntyre, characterize your efforts to exonerate the pilots as a merely symbolic “quixotic quest”. Will your work on exonerating the two dead pilots have any lasting, longer-term impact upon the MV-22 program or the wider Marine Corps culture?
It will not have any impact on the program. The program is safe and moving forward. This is important to the history of the Osprey, but more importantly, to the families who lost loved ones and the two pilots, now deceased, who are not here to defend themselves.
Do you ever worry that the publicity that surrounds your work to expunge the records of these two Marines will overshadow the less heralded—but quite worthy—work you’ve done for soldiers, sailors and veterans?
I do not. Issues dealing with specific individuals are very different than other legislative efforts. I am very passionate about our service members and their families and never regret bringing their courageous stories to the nation’s attention. In fact, these stories often provide the basis for legislative actions that I pursue.
In my opinion, Congress can often become too focused on programs and policies that it forgets about the people who are affected by those same programs and policies.
For a Representative who isn’t even a ranking member of a single Armed Services Subcommittee this year, you’ve sponsored an enormous amount of pro-national security community legislation in the 111th Congress. A partial list includes the Military Retiree Survivor Comfort Act (H.R. 613), the Fallen Hero Commemoration Act (H.R. 269), the Disabled Veterans Insurance Act of 2009 (H.R. 612), the Service Members First-Time Homebuyer Relief Act of 2009 (H.R. 2398), the PTSD/TBI Guaranteed Review for Heroes Act (H.R. 1701). Why—and how—are you so productive this year?
After 15 years in Congress, my colleagues on both sides of the aisle know that I am dedicated and focused. If I come forward with legislation, it is because I believe it is the right thing to do. I have a very strong sense of right and wrong and seek to do what’s right for our military.
Back to the Osprey program. In a May 1, 2003 Osprey-related comment to the News and Observer, you said “If the Marines say it can be done, it can be done….I trust the Marines to make certain it is safe and does the job.” Is the Osprey safe?
I believe it is safe now. The MV-22 Osprey has come a long way since its beginning.
Does it do the job?
The best people to answer that question are the users. To date, I have not heard that it is incapable of performing the missions that have been assigned to it.