Coast Guardsman Supports Border Humanitarian Operations
On June 19, 2021, his 27th birthday, Darius Jones woke up in Yuma, Arizona, more than 2,500 miles from home. The sun rose as it had every day since his arrival in early May, with temperatures set to exceed 110 degrees. Bright, orange sunlight painted the nearby desert mountains an amazing hue as he suited up in his Coast Guard uniform to fulfill a different type of duty than he was used to.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Darius Jones, a storekeeper, joined the Coast Guard in 2018. He spent two years attached to an icebreaking tug on the Delaware River and is currently assigned to Surface Forces Logistics Center in Norfolk, Virginia. How did he find himself doing two 30-day tours in Yuma, Arizona, in record-breaking temperatures, working alongside Customs and Border Protection during the border crisis?
Jones, a generally modest, mild mannered coastie, walks around the Customs and Border Protection facility with a bright smile, greeting everyone with a fist bump and uplifting comment. In a mere 30 days, he managed to form relationships with nearly all of his CBP partners by exhibiting a work ethic and an attitude radiating the Coast Guard’s core values.
“I enjoy the mission,” said Jones. “I enjoy the people, working with customs and border patrol. I enjoy being around them and also learning what they do and as a whole — the mission.”
The Coast Guard is assisting DHS with the humanitarian response along the Southwest Border.. The Coast Guard’s presence helps to ensure adequate care of individuals, families, and unaccompanied children arriving at the border. During his time in Yuma, Jones has helped facilitate the processing of more than 18,000 migrants in his first 30 days.
“We were called in to assist, basically on emergency orders,” said Jones. “With the surge of migrant arrivals, more people were needed to assist in support and logistics roles which helps ensure border patrol officers are where they are needed.”
Most of the Coast Guard members who are responding to the growing humanitarian situation were ordered to respond with only a couple of days’ notice to prepare and deploy. Jones was in this same boat. At the end of his obligatory first deployment to Yuma, he made the decision to stay for an additional month.
“I was still excited about the mission,” said Jones. “I wanted to be able to come into the second wave and help the new people so they wouldn't be lost or didn't understand what was going on.”
Not only did his volunteerism prevent the deployment of an additional coast guardsman, but it also facilitated a smooth transition between the waves of Coast Guard personnel – a fact greatly appreciated by the incoming team leaders.
“I can’t say it often enough: Having Jones here made us the cohesive, responsive team we are today,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Stephen Lehmann, Jones’s team lead. “The learning curve is steep and is very nuanced. Without him and his knowledge of the process, I don’t think that two weeks would have been enough for us to start being as effective as we are.”
Even though he decided to stay for an additional month, it is apparent that he is not the type of person to just go through the motions.
“It's tough to learn the job in one month,” said Jones. “So, two months — I felt like that was an ample amount of time for me to really get everything, grasp the languages as well as trying to get through the language barriers.”
On any given day, Jones and his Coastie comrades assist hundreds of migrants a day from South and Central American countries. Currently, none of the responding Coast Guardsmen are Spanish speakers and only one is fluent in Portuguese. Seeing the disparity, Jones stepped up to the challenge.
“I pay close attention to what the migrants and BP workers say,” said Jones. “I've also been using language learning programs. I’m going to practice lessons each day to try to learn the languages. It’s really interesting to dive into it and I really want to learn. Everybody comes in with rich cultures, rich heritages and different personalities. Once you are able to get past the language barrier and start to converse with them, you'll see their personalities come out at times and get a view of their situation — their journey.”
“Jones knows why we’re here,” said Lehmann, “and he’s made sure we, as a team, share that understanding. This is a mission of service. We’re here to make sure that those coming over the border and into our care are safe and their needs are met. Secondly, we need to ensure our partners in DHS are able to return to their critical roles by being effective members of the team.”
Jones, a native of South Carolina, former football camp coordinator, and graduate athlete from the HBCU, Virginia State University seems to be enjoying his own personal journey and is using this unique opportunity to his advantage in professional development.
“The connections I made here have expanded from coast to coast,” said Jones. “The people in CBP believed in me in a short time, so it did build my confidence and showed that I'm on the right track of not only doing my job correctly, but maybe I can have other opportunities later on in my career.”
The Coast Guard’s assistance during the border crisis has fostered a tighter relationship with their Department of Homeland Security counterparts in CBP. Even when out of their element, Coast Guard members have exemplified devotion to duty and have exceeded expectations. Hardworking and positive attitudes have made it just that much easier for border operations to continue throughout the immense strain.
“It was the comradery that I've been able to have with all the workers that I enjoyed the most,” said Jones. “Everyone, for the most part, was great in the sense of their personalities, in the sense that we all collaborate to get the mission done.”