Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Fred Gray
He came back from work one day, and they were gone. His roommates had packed up and left, leaving him with nothing but a bill for the pay-by-week hotel, due the next day. He cashed his last paycheck to pay the bill, gathered his few leftover belongings, and began his life as a homeless person.
“What it feels to be homeless isn’t as bad as you think it would be at first,” said Culinary Specialist Seaman Christopher Jones, a galley chef aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Carney (DDG 64). “I was free, completely free. Mentally, all I had to worry about was food, shelter and a place to sleep.”
Jones had no idea his path would ultimately lead to a Navy career.
“I had to go on my own little spiritual journey,” said Jones. “I was like, ‘Alright, I’ve got to figure things out for myself.’”
His nomadic adventure started during the summer of 2017 in North Carolina, where the days were hot and rainy and the evenings were cold and full of danger; Jones spoke of sleeping in trees to stay away from the animals and addicts roaming around at night.
It wasn’t long into his time as a homeless person that he began to see a different side of people, an uglier side.
“When people see you and they don’t think you’re really homeless, [when] they think you’re pretending, they shit on you,” Jones recalled. “Eventually, I started hating everybody.”
During the day, he would seek shelters and scavenge for food.
“That [last] check was not a lot, I mean – it…was…low,” Jones said with a grin on his face talking about when he still had a roof over his head. “I was struggling, barely eating probably once every two days.”
He recounted being ashamed of having to rummage through trash cans and dumpsters and eventually saw no alternative to theft – not for valuable property but simply to eat.
“I tried to be good as long as I could,” said Jones. “I didn’t care anymore and had nothing to lose. If I went to jail, that was three meals a day.”
He would do surveillance on people’s houses and study the surrounding area to see if the residents were home, at work, or on a vacation. One particular house gave him a false sense of security, and he decided to break in for food that evening, wearing a Halloween mask and slipping through a window under the cover of night.
“I was acting like it was my own house,” said Jones.
He began eating food straight out of the cabinets and refrigerator. He was so comfortable with his surroundings, he didn’t notice he wasn’t alone until he heard what he described as “the unmistakable ‘cha-click’ of a gun” and thought his life was over.
“Aw man, I’m going to die,” said Jones describing his thought at that moment.
He did not die that night; instead, he found a sympathetic ear and an opportunity that would change his life. The man holding the gun would ultimately become the person who changed his life.
A pastor by trade, he sat Jones down and listened to the circumstances that led him to his current predicament. He after listening and being sympathetic to Jones’ story, agreed to provide food and shelter in return for help around the house and yard.
While living with the pastor, Jones started to shy away from his less-than-reputable lifestyle and began to get his life together.
“I started getting happy again, which kept me out of trouble,” said Jones.
During the time Jones spent in the house with the pastor he began to notice photos of the pastor in a uniform at exotic and captivating locations. When asked about the photos, the pastor told him that he was a retired Navy chief petty officer.
“The chief started to talk to me a little more about the Navy and all the cool places he’d been and all the cool things he’d done,” said Jones. “I was homeless for about five months when I decided to join myself. It’s all really because I met that chief.”
When he went to the military enlistment processing station (MEPS), there were only two Navy job ratings available: boatswain’s mate and culinary specialist. After learning about both ratings, Jones didn’t take long to make up his mind.
Culinary specialist was the only rate for him.
“After starving for so long, I know what the necessity of food is like,” Jones recalled, sitting back in his chair with a giant smile on his face, letting little chuckles slip past his words. “Never being hungry again sounded good to me! Having to never worry about food is one of the main reasons I joined the Navy!”
When asked where he thought he would be if he hadn’t joined the Navy, Jones became more subdued.
“I know people say it a lot – that the Army or Navy saved [their] life – but I’d probably be dead,” said Jones. “Life is pretty good now; even though they [other Sailors] come and go, you will always remember these people. You join a second family.”
Having been in the Navy a couple of years now, he has some advice for someone who may be in the same spot that he used to be.
“Really jump at the opportunity [to join the military],” said Jones. “It doesn’t mean you have to change who you are. When I go back to the States, people back home are not going to be able to relate because you’ve become something bigger than yourself myself. It’s a platform for you to take whatever you want out of life.”
Although Jones has been thriving in the Navy, he hasn’t been in contact with the chief who ultimately changed his life; however, he has new mentors who appreciate what Seaman Jones brings to the table.
“You can see in his motivation, his work ethic, and the pride he takes in his work that he is grateful to be here,” said Culinary Specialist 1st Class Jeremy Smith, galley supervisor aboard Carney. “He truly is a great asset to have aboard, and his personality alone makes him someone you want to be around.”
Jones has no regrets about his decision.
“The Navy is actually pretty great,” he said. “At the end of the day, its food, water, shelter, getting money… You get to see all these different countries, meet all these interesting people, learn all about different cultures. It was really worth doing. I don’t regret it.”