The Inside Rail

We’re proud of Quint Kessenich, Pete Fornatale, Frank Scatoni, Jim Mulvihill, Travis Stone, John Lies, Liz Ronk, John Panagot, Brian Nadeau, Joanie Morris, Katie Bo Williams, Gabby Gaudet, Kristin Brennan, Madison Scott, Michael Smith, Annise Montplaisir and all the former interns. They got up early, stayed late, made The Special their own before finding their own niches, some in our sport, all in life. I know we’ll be proud of the 2018 class.

Then there is Ryan Jones. Pride has no limits.

The Saratoga resident was enrolled at Brown University, astrophysics or something, and wanted to sharpen his writing skills while delving into the Thoroughbred business. Fasig-Tipton’s Anna Seitz recommended him, “He’s your kind of kid, smart, hard-working, responsible, enthusiastic. You’ll love him.”

Definitely overqualified, Jones worked full-time at The Special in 2012 and 2013, then did weekends, for fun, the next summer. If you can laugh while you work and work while you laugh, you’ll make it. The dream team, Jones and Gaudet, worked and laughed through two summers, needing little direction from us and always delivering. Gaudet graduated from The Special and has gone from strength to strength, deservedly so. Jones graduated from The Special, and Brown and got a job in politics in Washington, D.C. We kept in touch, reuniting at Saratoga and at a jazz party in Middleburg, Va. He called one day and asked if we could have lunch. I thought he was already in law school, about to scale the corporate ladder, figured I’d vote for him one day and maybe ask him for a job another.

We sat down at an outside table at Common Grounds in Middleburg and I asked Jones about law school. He looked me dead in the eye, squared his square jaw and told me he wasn’t going to law school – at least then – and said he wanted to join the Army. I swallowed hard, thinking about his parents when he told them the same thing. His determination, his commitment that day, somehow, made it more palatable, more right.

Second Lieutenant Ryan Jones, 26, returned to Saratoga last weekend. On a four-day pass, he came home for a quick escape – from the rigors of the Army, from the summer heat of Georgia, from 16-mile marches carrying 40 pounds on his back and a 30-pound M240 Bravo on his front, poison ivy from his hips down, awake for 48 hours. Yeah, that kind of escape.

“It’s the first time I’ve been back here in a year,” Jones said, from the apron of the clubhouse as Sombeyay won the Sanford. “In one sense, it makes you miss home a little bit more, coming back. It’s different in the Army.”

I asked the simplest question, the one that I couldn’t get my head around when he told me he was joining the Army and one I still can’t get my head around 428 days after he joined.

“Why?” I asked, while thinking, ‘Why would a kid with a physics and economics degree from Brown, with the world at his feet want to join the Army?’

Jones had an answer. I wasn’t surprised.

“I wanted to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps, he served in the 101st in World War II, jumped into Normandy on D-Day with the 502 infantry regiment which is exactly where I’m going at Fort Campbell,” Jones said. “Everybody asks, ‘Why did you join?’ Seventy-four years ago to the day, my grandfather was fighting his way across Europe against the Nazis. For me, every day I think about that.”

Jones wears Ellsworth Jones Jr.’s dog tag next to his, both represent courage and commitment. The next morning, Jones was going to Glens Falls to place his crossed rifles pin, given to infantry officers, on his grandfather’s grave. The Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient, a Screaming Eagle, and decade-long mayor of Saratoga died Dec. 31, 2006.

“I’d like to think he’d be pretty proud, I think he’d be nervous. He hated war, he got very choked up talking about it for the rest of his life, didn’t like talking about it, so I think he would be nervous, proud, but nervous,” Brown said. “My family has been very supportive, but I can see it in my mom’s eyes, right, every time I talk to her, her eyes roll and she has to shake it off. At our graduation yesterday, they’re showing videos of guys shooting machine guns, throwing grenades, she buried her face in her hands.”

Jones signed a three-year contract with the Army and is thinking strongly about signing up for another three years after that. He wants to tag along with the 502nd brigade to Afghanistan in 2019, put his skills as “an effective combat solder on the modern battlefield” to the test.

I wanted to bury my face in my hands.

“I say to everybody, ‘Don’t worry about me.’ I’ve had the best training in the world, surrounded by the best people in the world,” Jones said. “The Army is very good at weeding out the people who don’t belong so the leaders are the most competent, intelligent, capable guys.”

We’ve never doubted his competence, his intelligence, his capability. We’ll worry about him every day.