Dr. Douglas Jones
By Paul Wood
CHAMPAIGN — For Dr. Douglas Jones, a two-year enlistment in the Army meant spit-and-polish military funerals, military ceremonies and formal White House events.
After that experience, the surgeon, 47, is dapper to this day in his bow tie and suit, and stands tall and erect in bearing as the model infantry soldier he was.
He has practiced at Christie Clinic for more than 13 years, and he also has privileges at Carle Foundation Hospital, Presence Covenant Medical Center and Kirby Medical Center in Monticello.
Dr. Jones was recently named Presence Covenant Medical Center physician of the year for 2016.
The Third U.S. Infantry “Old Guard,” of which Jones was part, is the official escort to the president and has many other ceremonial duties, including guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The Army’s drill team and Continental Color Guard are part of the infantry unit as well. Tomb guards learn about Arlington National Cemetery and the nation’s history.
There’s extensive training. It doesn’t hurt being tall, as well.
“The majority of soldiers in our unit were over 6 feet tall, and sometimes when we trained with other units, they looked like pygmies,” he said.
A Virginia native, Dr. Jones was the first person in his extended family to go to college, and decided to study engineering at Virginia Tech.
Running out of tuition money, he enlisted in the Army between his freshman and sophomore years, in August 1989.
His test scores qualified him for the elite unit. A random conversation with one of the medics assigned to his platoon during a training mission was the spark that steered him to the profession of medicine.
“He taught me how to start IVs and splint fractures,” among other procedures, said Jones, who also enjoyed learning about the human body and how to heal it.
Besides being the official escort of the president, the Old Guard serves in ceremonies at cemeteries in Arlington and Quantico.
The hand-picked and highly-trained soldiers were dressed to the nines, so much so that they looked like “toy soldiers,” Jones recalled.
Jones served at White House functions, but never met the first President Bush.
While getting a haircut, he did engage in a conversation with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was a general at the time serving as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“It was a short but pleasant conversation. Generals enjoy the troops; it’s the officers they’re hard on,” Jones said.
He served a month at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“I consider it one of the greatest honors I have had in my life,” he said. “I left the Tomb of the Unknowns after one month due to unfortunate circumstances. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn’t stay at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier long enough to earn the Tomb Badge.”
Jones later served in the National Guard, and was able to finish his undergraduate degree in chemistry/pre-med, and then, with grades improved by his military discipline, get into medical school.
Jones earned his M.D. at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.
He met his wife while doing a fellowship at the Harvard AIDS Institute the summer between his first and second years of medical school.
He did his residency in general surgery at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
Days are long, often more than 12 hours, but the surgeon makes sure to find time for his wife and three children — “when I am with my family, I am with my family,” he said.
The boy/girl twins are Samaia and Silas, and Sidney is their younger sister.
His wife, Sammer, finished her Ph.D./MBA, and her career changes would be the only reason he would move out of the Champaign area, he said.
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact staff writer Paul Wood at email@example.com.