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Texas Sailor Making Waves Recruiting In Minnesota
by U.S. Navy MC1 Christopher Lindahl
September 19, 2020

“I didn’t even know Minnesota got this cold,” said Machinery Repairman 2nd Class Jakeb Thornberry, a Navy recruiter assigned to Navy Talent Acquisition Group (NTAG) Northern Plains, working out of the Burnsville office. “I didn’t know anything about Minnesota.”

Coming from the small town of Malakoff, Texas, the relatively new-to-Minnesota Navy recruiter is settling into a new life in the frozen tundra, though it’s not all shock, as Thornberry is an avid deer hunter and enjoys snowboarding.

January 15, 2020 - Machinery Repairman 2nd Class Jakeb Thornberry, a native of Malakoff, Texas, stands outside the city hall. Thornberry is assigned as a recruiter for Navy Talent Acquisition Group Northern Plains and works out of the Burnsville recruiting station. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Christopher Lindahl)
January 15, 2020 - Machinery Repairman 2nd Class Jakeb Thornberry, a native of Malakoff, Texas, stands outside the city hall. Thornberry is assigned as a recruiter for Navy Talent Acquisition Group Northern Plains and works out of the Burnsville recruiting station. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Christopher Lindahl)

“I actually wanted to go to Iowa,” he said. “For the deer hunting.”

While that may sound like fighting words to some of the Minnesota and Wisconsin natives, they can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that he is also eager to try hunting in the woods as well as the open fields of Iowa.

It’s not just in hunting that he has been willing to try new things, it’s finding a comfort zone with recruiting that has been his biggest struggle.

“I don’t think that’s something I’m good at,” Thornberry said. “I definitely need to get a lot better, I’m still not where I want to be.”

Thornberry may be exhibiting a bit of humility though, as he has recently found his stride as he is working in the recruiting realm during COVID-19 and was even nominated for the command’s most recent Sailor of the Quarter.

“He’s definitely matured and grown as a Sailor and recruiter,” said Navy Counselor 1st Class Jay Ryals, Thornberry’s divisional leading petty officer. “He’s got a heck of a future.”

Thornberry doesn’t have the typical recruiting approach though, and he didn’t really have the prototypical start to his Navy career, either. He didn’t take himself or his career very seriously after joining the Navy straight out of high school.

“My first four years, I got on a bad path and was doing all the wrong stuff,” Thornberry said. “I did whatever I wanted, when I wanted. I didn’t care about qualifications, didn’t care about anything.”

He admits that during that timeframe he grew to despise his choice to join the Navy and began counting down the days before he was able to go home.

Thornberry would then choose to not re-enlist and received an honorable discharge before going back home to Texas, where it took a full year and a half to get over his poor opinions of his Navy life. At that point, he began to self-examine to determine the cause of his unhappiness.

“I don’t think it was the Navy that I hated, I think it was my attitude while I was working there,” he said. “I thought, ‘I need to change some stuff around in my personal life because I don’t think it was the Navy.”

All told, it took about three years for the growth process to mature within Thornberry.

“I started to figure that out about a year and a half after I got out of the Navy. So then finally I started getting my life on track, started going to church more, started doing a lot of things better and started being a happier person,” he said. “Whenever that happened, I thought, ‘alright, now that I’m a happier person, make better decisions, I’m more of a ‘grown-up’ now, I feel like I will do better in the Navy than I did before.’”

At that point, Thornberry connected with a prior service recruiter in Texas and learned a lot more about the benefits to serving.

“I thought, the Navy does have a lot of good benefits, then I actually went online and I started looking at all the benefits we had and I was like, ‘man, this is crazy! How did I not know about all this stuff when I was in the first four years?’ I was stupid,” he said.

Thornberry re-enlisted with the Navy Reserves shortly thereafter and now serves as a recruiter with a much clearer head than his younger self.

“And that’s why I tell all the kids that join today, ‘when you go in to the Navy, do not start hanging out with the bad crowd,” he said. “All these opportunities the Navy throws at you, take advantage of them - because if you don’t, you’re going to regret it, because I do.”

Thornberry uses many of his past experiences to help guide and mentor his potential new recruits.

September 1, 2020 - Machinery Repairman 2nd Class Jakeb Thornberry, a native of Malakoff, Texas, prospects for new recruits online. Thornberry is assigned as a recruiter for Navy Talent Acquisition Group Northern Plains and works out of the Burnsville recruiting station. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Christopher Lindahl)
September 1, 2020 - Machinery Repairman 2nd Class Jakeb Thornberry, a native of Malakoff, Texas, prospects for new recruits online. Thornberry is assigned as a recruiter for Navy Talent Acquisition Group Northern Plains and works out of the Burnsville recruiting station. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Christopher Lindahl)

“That’s why it’s pretty easy for me to talk to a lot of the kids and be real with them because whenever I was in their shoes, I went through all these mistakes and stuff, so now I can tell them, ‘hey, all this stuff can happen to you, but if you want to step past it, listen to what I have to say,’” he said.

Thornberry has taken that mentality a step further though and tries to mentor anyone he speaks to in his office. He is known for taking the time to truly get to know someone and genuinely help them discover their future path, whether it is with the Navy, another branch, or out in the civilian sector.

“If 18 people come in here and sit down with me in a month and all 18 of those people figure out what they want to do for the rest of their life, but only two of them join the Navy, then I’m happy. I did what I came here to do,” he said. “But if I bring in 18 people here and three of them join the Navy, but only three of them figured out what they want to do, then I didn’t do what I came here for.”

One of Thornberry’s favorite stories is of a gentleman who visited him and wanted to become an officer. When it was determined that he did not have the test scores for that to become a reality, Thornberry helped him uncover what he really wants to do.

“I kept talking to him to see what he wanted to do, and now he’s an ice fisherman in Alaska, which is pretty cool,” Thornberry said.

He says the biggest struggle recruiting out of the Burnsville area is potential recruits keeping their appointments. That does not deter him from his goal of helping people find their potential as he tries to steer them toward their goals.

“I came in to recruiting to try to help people,” Thornberry said. “That’s what I look at when I think if you’re good at recruiting.”

Thornberry has also been impressing his fellow recruiters and leadership as a big team player.

“And teamwork, team-wise? He’ll do anything for you. Anything for you. One hundred percent,” Ryals said.

Thornberry will be recruiting locally out of the Burnsville recruiting station for the next two years, and during that time he hopes to see as many people as possible to discuss their future.

“If I’m helping people, then I’m happy doing what I’m doing. If I’m not helping people, then I’m not doing what I came here to do,” Thornberry said.

NTAG Northern Plains is responsible for enlisted and officer recruiting, covering 393,000 square miles, in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, and parts of Illinois and Wisconsin.

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