James Lyons ’03, one of the first Syracuse University alumni killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom, was inducted into the University’s National Veterans Resource Center’s Hall of Honor on Oct. 15. He was also recognized as the “Hometown Hero” during halftime…
Making a Difference on the Battlefield, in the Corporate World and at Syracuse University
The incoming chair of the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs (OVMA) Advisory Board, Richard M. (Rich) Jones ’92, G’95, L’95, believes that President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address provides us with a call to action. He says that the most important obligation as a nation and as a university community is to “[T]o care for those who have borne the battle.” Jones says it is this very commitment that has guided the leaders of Syracuse University for many decades and will shape the future for generations to come. “The idea of how to best support our veterans and military families is continuously evolving,” Jones says. “Our nation spends billions of dollars each year recruiting and then training our young men and women in uniform. We need to be as equally purposeful as they transition out of uniform and into the civilian workforce.”
Jones, who is the executive vice president, general tax counsel and chief veteran officer at ViacomCBS, believes the OVMA is well-positioned to build a broader, innovative network of support for veterans and their families—one that leverages the resources of the University as well as those of the public and private sector.
“In my estimation, in order for the OVMA to be as impactful as it can, we must, to use a military term, be hyper aware of ‘the conditions on the ground’ because conditions affecting this generation of transitioning veterans are changing in ways that we can’t even imagine and they will need our best thinking and support,” he says.
Jones describes himself as just a hard-working soldier who has never forgotten where he came from. He was a non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, where he served honorably as a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment and 10th Mountain Division. “I still operate like the staff sergeant that I was: head on a swivel, always looking out 1,000 meters,” Jones says. “Our mission at Syracuse University is to provide a world-class education. What should distinguish our approach to serving student veterans? What Syracuse does, which is so unique, is to supplement the classroom instruction with community, support, mentoring and life-coaching and always providing the practical survival skills necessary to be successful in the civilian workplace and beyond.”
Guidance and support
Jones credits Syracuse University for changing his life and providing the guidance, support and education that he needed to successfully take on the challenges of life after the military. After six years of service, he was medically retired from the Army after being critically injured when his parachute malfunctioned during a training exercise. Jones was being treated at the Syracuse VA Medical Center when he made the decision to hobble across Irving Street on crutches to campus and found his way to the office of Horace Landry, professor emeritus of accounting in the Whitman School of Management and a WWII Navy veteran. Jones says that Landry’s genuine concern exemplifies the old saying that “everyone needs someone in their life to give them the courage to be what they are meant to be.”
Jones went on to earn a bachelor of science degree (summa cum laude) as well as law and business degrees (with honors) from Syracuse University. He credits that chance meeting for setting in motion the events that led to where he is today. “At a critical point in my life, Syracuse University literally helped me get back on my feet,” says Jones. “It gave me the gift of an outstanding education, allowed me to have a great career and, most importantly, the ability to make a difference in the lives of others.”
Despite any success, he has never forgotten how gut-wrenching it was to have his military career end and how difficult it was to overcome the pain, physical limitations and trauma. It drives him to help others, just like Professor Landry and the Syracuse University community helped him, to get to the other side stronger and empowered.
Jones, who was awarded the University’s highest alumni honor, an Arents Award, in 2014, works closely with many of the nation’s most impactful veteran service organizations to ensure that we honor the sacrifice of this generation of veterans and their families. He founded the ViacomCBS Veterans Network 13 years ago to provide mentoring, education, internships and economic empowerment to veterans. He considers it a great honor to serve as the chief veteran officer at ViacomCBS where nearly 1,000 veterans are currently employed, bringing with them skills essential to both military and corporate success, like leadership, problem solving, teamwork and attention to detail.
“For us, it’s all about selfless service and quiet, impactful action,” says Jones. He cites the Veterans Immersion Program as an example of how companies can help student veterans with hands-on experience, career-building workshops, professional development courses and networking opportunities.
Thiéyacine Fall G’22, who is pursuing an MBA at the Whitman School, is one of the program interns, working in the Global Sourcing Department. Fall was an active-duty U.S. Army soldier in the infantry, assigned to the 10th Mountain Division and deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. When he left the service, he got an undergraduate degree at Fordham University. “When I got out of the service, I saw all these promotional promises: ‘Hire vets! Hire heroes!’ I figured if I got a degree, the doors would be open, and the bounty would be plentiful,” Fall says. “But the reality was—there were no doors.”
Fall discovered the painful truth suffered by many veterans. Companies didn’t seem to value the skills they had developed on the battlefield.
Translating military skills
Janina Rios, another ViacomCBS intern and Syracuse University undergraduate, was similarly discouraged. The army veteran had gone directly from high school into basic training, serving in the National Guard before suffering an injury that forced her into medical retirement. “Everybody kept saying it’s going to be easy, you served in the military,” Rios says. “But every time I applied for a job, I was told I didn’t meet the qualifications.”
Looking back, Rios wishes someone had helped her translate her military skills into civilian language to improve her resume and her interviewing skills. That’s exactly what the programs at Syracuse University, OVMA and the ViacomCBS Veterans Network can help with. Rios, now majoring in film studies in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, is editing content to create engaging videos. “The fact that I was selected for the internship in my freshman year and am able to connect with people who are extremely passionate about veterans…it’s genuine love and care that you’re experiencing, along with mentorship and understanding,” Rios says.
Both Fall and Rios say that the greatest challenge for veterans transitioning to civilian life is the lack of structure. The internship program provides opportunities that are well-defined and a clearer pathway to career success. “Rich Jones is making the roadmap easier for me,” says Fall. “And I’d like to make that roadmap easier for other veterans.”
“We have to make sure that we provide our student veterans with the mindset and the tools to navigate their transition,” says Jones. “That sums up the mission of the OVMA, its board and this wonderful Syracuse University community. We have the great privilege to continue this work, to honor a promise that was made decades ago and the unique opportunity to make a huge difference in the lives of transitioning veterans and their families for generations to come.”
2014 Arents Award, Excellence in Finance and Veterans Affairs