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PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. - As civil war ravaged his home, family and country, one Parris Island recruit escaped it all to begin a new life in America and later help the children left behind who were not so fortunate.
Rct. Arryor Olu Jones was born in Goderich, Freetown, Sierra Leone, in a time of war within the country. At the age of 8, he watched helplessly as rebels stole everything from his home, burned it down and murdered his uncle in front of the family.
“They came in asking for food, money and everything that was valuable to my father,” said Olu Jones, currently training here with Platoon 1046, Alpha Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion. “When they weren’t satisfied, they rounded us up in the center of the house and set it on fire around us.”
Olu Jones, a tall man, stared off into space while reflecting on the night he will never forget.
Five rebels entered the house, he recounted, but four of them left after they set fire to the house. One stayed to watch his parents, siblings and his uncle, John Willie.
“When the rebel wasn’t paying attention, my uncle got up and punched him in the face to distract him while he got his gun,” said Olu Jones, 22. “He got his gun to shoot the rebel, but the weapon didn’t fire because it was on safe, and the rebel shot him first. The rest of my family was running out the backdoor while this happened, but I just watched in horror.”
Olu Jones seemed to be transported back to that fateful night as the memories came rushing back.
He told of his family fleeing to a refugee camp for fear they would be found by the rebels and killed like his Uncle John.
“I remember just crying a lot,” said Olu Jones as his dark brown eyes seemed to flash with feelings of fright and confusion. “I was scared that they would either kill me or take me away to serve in the military, because that’s what they did to young boys. After everything happened, it took me six days to realize that what happened was real. My uncle was more of a father to me than my own, so it hit me really hard.”
The family went back to their home later and tried to recover things that weren’t completely destroyed by the fire.
“After that happened, I really understood the atrocities of war,” said Olu Jones, becoming more stone-faced and quiet. “I grew up really quickly and didn’t smile much anymore. What made it worse was it was my own ‘brothers’ who killed my uncle, people who were from the same place as me.”
Olu Jones’ mother noticed the change in him and did not want him to suffer any longer. So, when he was 12, his family moved to the United States to live with relatives in Somerset, New Jersey, where he attended Franklin High School.
His parents only stayed in the U.S. for a year or so before moving back to Sierra Leone, returning to their work and property.
Even though Olu Jones is safe, he fears for the future of Sierra Leone’s children.
“I believe if they are educated, there won’t be a second war,” said Olu Jones.
In high school, he started a nonprofit organization helping children of Sierra Leone go to school by providing scholarships and school supplies.
“I personally give out 10 scholarships a year,” said Olu Jones. “$25 here is thousands of dollars over there, so I spend about $500 every year.”
He also visited Sierra Leone after he graduated high school to give out Christmas presents to underprivileged children, but he didn’t lose sight of his future in the U.S.
After he graduated high school, Olu Jones worked different odd jobs in Mount Rainier, Md., weighing his options in the military and convincing his parents that it was the right step despite what he had been through.
“After high school, I originally wanted to join the Army, but after I did more research, I realized the Marine Corps was the branch for me,” said Olu Jones. “My parents did not want me to do it at first, because of everything I had been through, but they came around.”
Olu Jones enlisted in the Marine Corps and left for recruit training just two months later.
“He is definitely in the top 10 percent of his platoon,” said Sgt. James Sawyer, one of Olu Jones’ drill instructors. “He does everything he is supposed to do and goes out of his way to do extra for not only himself but other recruits too.”
The typical stresses of recruit training are no problem for Olu Jones, who said he has experienced them before.
“I’m used to people yelling in my face. I’m used to pain, because I experienced it young, and I’m used to being hungry,” said Olu Jones. “When recruits complain about being hungry, it makes me mad, because I know that there are people out there who only get one meal a day and don’t complain. I’ve seen it; I’ve done it.”
Olu Jones’ penchant for helping others is currently being put to use as he leads one of four squads in his platoon.
“If he keeps doing as well as he is doing now, he will do well in the Marine Corps,” said Sawyer, a 23-year-old native of Titusville, Fla.
After he graduates recruit training June 14, 2013, Olu Jones plans to make a career out of the Marine Corps and start a family. Down the road, he wants to return to Sierra Leone and continue to help in any way he can.