Olivia Heersink - The Times of Northwest Indiana
KUWAIT — Jenna Jones begins each shift by saying hello and giving a hug to her younger sister, Justine Jones.
If she forgets, Justine said she’s quick to chastise her sibling for disrupting their daily routine.
“It makes a world of difference — it’s the small things,” said Justine, who starts work at an earlier time. “I start watching the clock, and if she doesn’t stop by, then I go over to her desk and give her an earful.”
“Yep, she’ll yell at me,” Jenna replied with a laugh.
Typically, Jenna said she isn’t much of a hugger, but she makes an exception for Justine, especially given their current situation.
The pair — both from Gary — are stationed at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait as part of Task Force Spartan, a multi-component organization composed of active United States Army and National Guard units. This specific area is overseen by more than 600 members of the Indiana National Guard's 38th Infantry Division.
“The soldiers' mission is to help build partner capacity in the Middle East, to promote regional self-reliance, deter regional aggression and to increase security,” Master Sgt. Jeff Lowry said. “Every job over here is important.”
Jenna works as an aviation operations specialist, processing flight requests for the thousands of troops serving in Southwest Asia. The 30-year-old sergeant, who is often on-call, said she never expected to enjoy her job so much or succeed as well as she has within the role.
“It’s been an incredible experience,” Jenna said. “At first I just wanted to see if I could do it, and it’s turned out to be a very successful move for me. ... My days are never the same.”
Justine, 29 and a staff sergeant, deals with distributing food and other items to the various sites being occupied throughout the Middle East, keeping a close eye on rations and making sure each location has what it needs. She recently started working in maintenance, as well.
After training in Texas, the sisters left the U.S. in early July, traveling on Independence Day. It’s their first deployment in their decade-long military careers. At first, it was just Jenna set to leave. But Justine decided to volunteer for the task force, moving from the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team to the 38th. They’ll be in Kuwait — where temperatures easily soar past 100 degrees — for at least the next nine months.
“We hang out as often as we can with our conflicting schedules,” Jenna said. “We’re really blessed to be going through this together. There’s not many people that have the support here like we do. It’s been easier simply knowing that she’s here for me.”
“It’s a whole other world here, so it’s really nice to be together,” Justine added. “We both understand each other.”
Both Jenna and Justine followed in the footsteps of their older sister, Jeri Jones Cooper, by joining the military. Cooper, 31, is also a member of the Indiana National Guard, but isn’t on deployment with them. However, the three sisters weren’t the first to do so in their family. In fact, they’re just the latest in a long lineage.
“We’ve got family in all branches of the military, except the Coast Guard,” Jenna said.
“Everybody expected me to do it anyway,” Justine added. “It’s provided a bunch of opportunities for us that we never would’ve come across otherwise. … Every job has its downfalls, but the Guard — this whole life — I just love it. I’m really proud to be a part of it.”
Their father, Dean Jones, served in the U.S. Air Force, which prompted the tight-knit family to move across the globe before making Gary their official home base. They’ve also lived in South Carolina, Germany and Tennessee. Jenna said the siblings’ structured lifestyle and disciplined upbringing made enlisting an easy transition for them.
Their parents took comfort in the fact that Jenna and Justine would be deployed together, which helped soften the blow of having to spend almost a year without them.
The sisters make sure to keep in touch with their parents and other family members. They often schedule “game nights” via video chat as a way to minimize the distance and get the most out of their hour-long phone calls.
“They move the pieces for us,” Justine said. “It gives us more time with them other than just explaining your day cause that’s over so fast. … I just miss them, and I know the holidays are going to be rough. But I’ve got Jenna.”
“It’s going to be OK,” Jenna replied, putting her arms around her younger sister. “We got this.”
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