Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Laser eye surgery was the game changer that allowed Durwood Jones, known to family and friends as Rocky, to renew his childhood interest in aviation and become a pilot in the military.
Trading in his indoor work environment as a computer programmer and licensed trader with the Chicago Board of Trade, he took the more adventurous route of becoming a fighter jet pilot with the Wisconsin Air National Guard – inspired by his younger brother, Maj. Robert Jones, who pilots fighter jets with the Oregon Air National Guard.
The brothers, separated by just one year, were born in Roswell and raised in Albuquerque, where they attended Albuquerque Academy and were competitive cross-country runners. Rocky graduated in 2001 and Robert in 2002.
Capt. Durwood “Rocky” Jones, 37, who flew under the call name “Hawk,” was flying an F-16 fighter jet during a routine training mission the evening of Dec. 8 when the aircraft crashed in a remote area of the Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
He died at the scene, leaving behind his wife, Corinne, and their two young children, George Alfred Jones, 2, and Roger Martin Jones, 2 months.
The cause of the crash is under investigation, military officials said.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers ordered flags flown at half-staff through Friday, calling Jones a “selfless hero.”
Jones was a decorated combat veteran with the Wisconsin Air National Guard 115th Fighter Wing, with which he had been deployed to Afghanistan, South Korea, Japan, Poland and the United Arab Emirates.
When the brothers were children, their parents, Lee and Kathy Jones, took them to airfields to watch aircraft taking off and landing, and they frequently traveled to watch air shows. Lee, who owned a Pepsi-Cola distribution business, flew a private airplane, covering great distances around southeastern New Mexico and West Texas.
Robert was 14 when he began learning to fly gliders, and when he was old enough, he took lessons to fly powered aircraft and eventually got a pilot’s license. By the time the brothers were in college, Rocky at Northwestern and Robert at the University of Illinois, the military had changed its rules to allow people to become pilots if they’ve had corrective laser eye surgery.
After graduation, Robert began pilot training with the Oregon Air National Guard. Rocky, a math wiz, became a computer programmer and licensed trader with the Chicago Board of Trade.
Rocky did that for a number of years, “but he got tired of being indoors and wanted to go live a more adventurous life,” said his mother, Kathy.
Attending Robert’s winging ceremony in 2009, Rocky was inspired and began applying for pilot training programs. He was accepted by the Iowa Air National Guard, but with base relocations, he finished his training with the Wisconsin Air National Guard.
“We both had an interest in aviation, but all through childhood, we were told we could never be military pilots because of our eyesight,” said brother Robert, who flies F-15 fighter jets with the Oregon Air National Guard and works as a commercial airline pilot.
“Rocky kind of lost the desire to be a pilot, and it didn’t come up again until after college when he already had a successful career,” and after laser eye surgery.
Being a military pilot was Rocky’s calling, but he had a number of other interests and talents that he tapped into over the years, his brother said.
Rocky was a “concert-level guitarist” who could play everything from classical to mariachi to flamenco. He was a licensed skydiver, he raced motorcycles, was a mountain biker, a rifle marksman “and could solve complicated computer problems in minutes.”
Father Lee said one of his son’s biggest influences was Scouting. He got involved as a Cub Scout, went on to Boy Scouts and finally became an Eagle Scout.
“He didn’t just check the boxes to get all the credits and merit badges; he lived it all the way until the day he passed,” Lee Jones said. “He never had a discouraging word. He didn’t waste his time with anger. He lived the Scout program and was the epitome of an Eagle Scout, as was his brother.”
In addition to his wife, children, parents and brother, Durwood “Rocky” Jones is survived by Robert’s wife Lindsay and their son, Clayton, and daughter, Cannon.
A memorial service will be held in Madison, Wisconsin, at a later date.