FORT KNOX, Ky. –
James Ammons Jr. didn’t have to look for heroes as a little boy. Everyone he looked up to looked down at him from his grandmother’s ‘Wall of Heroes,’ as he strolled down the hallway.
And they all share a family resemblance. Of his grandmother’s 16 children – 10 boys and six girls – every male (one son died before adulthood) would don a military uniform.
“As a kid, I thought that was something spectacular!” said Master Sgt. James Ammons Jr., 308th Civil Affairs Brigade of Homewood, Illinois. “I wanted to be on that wall so bad.”
Ammons would follow in his father and uncles’ footsteps, and he’d spread his grandmother’s infectious love of military service to his own children.
Though he began his military career in Navy dungarees, the Army greens meant he’d be closer to home with his family, Ammons said.
“I started in the Navy as a machinist mate working in electronic warfare, and I was on a ship. But, I wanted to finish school and be home with my kids,” Ammons said. “I fulfilled my Navy commitment, and I (later) joined the Army Reserve.”
Ammons said his children had only really known him as a Soldier.
“When I came into the Army, 9/11 had already occurred, and my children always saw Soldiers as heroes,” Ammons said. “They would see me come home in uniform, and they loved it. They’d say, ‘I want to be just like you dad.’”
While Ammons said he was proud his children would follow family tradition, he also pressed them to blaze their own trail.
Ammons’ dad served four years in Vietnam as a sergeant, and he has surpassed his dad by three ranks. Ammons has also earned a Bachelor of Science in sociology from Arizona State University and is pursuing a Master of Public Administration at Florida State University.
“You have to be better than me; ‘I told my kids’ – that’s how we progress. I see this as progression – me as a senior NCO (noncommissioned officer) and my kids as officers,” Ammons said. “Each generation should do better than the last.”
That path of progression is evident in Ammons’ three children Morgan, Dylan and James III.
“I chose to become an Army officer because I felt a calling to do something different than my family. My father, both grandfathers and (several) great uncles all enlisted in the Armed Forces, but I wanted to follow my own path,” said 2nd Lt. Morgan Ammons, currently attending the Adjutant General Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. “I knew I wanted to be in the Army.”
Morgan just needed to decide if she would become an Army officer through the Reserve Officer Training Corps, Officer Candidate School or West Point.
“After attending the USMA (U.S. Military Academy) Summer Leaders Experience, I knew the Academy was where I wanted to be,” Morgan said.
According to Ammons, West Point was always Morgan’s choice. She wanted to know where the top officers came from and inquired about his knowledge of West Point.
“I told her, ‘that’s where the best officers come from,’” Ammons said. “Morgan said to me, ‘Well, I want to go to West Point.’”
Morgan graduated from USMA at West Point, May 22. She will become a 42B, Adjutant General officer with follow on assignment at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
What a momentous occasion this was for her dad.
“I almost broke into tears (when I saluted) my daughter,” Ammons said. “I am a very proud father.”
“Having the man I look up to render my first salute was a dream come true,” Morgan said. “It was an emotional moment.”
Morgan continues the family’s military service history, but she is the first officer.
“My parents are proud that I decided to join the ‘family business’ while also making my own decisions on how to do so. I wanted to serve as my family members before me, but I (didn’t want) to copy their exact journey,” Morgan said. “My parents helped me stay my own person and only do things because I wanted to, not because someone in my family did it.”
Not only did Morgan attend West Point, her sister, Dylan would shortly thereafter follow in her footsteps.
“Dylan said, ‘if Morgan can go (to West Point), I can, too,’” Ammons said of his 20-year-old daughter currently at USMA. “My kids want to be the best. They challenge each other.”
They test one another to the point of trying to turn their rooms into bunkers, seeing who can make the best bed, do the most pushups, Ammons said. But my wife is the reality check for all of us.
“(Mom) would say, ‘we’re going to sit down and speak real language, not going to run everywhere, or see who can do the most pushups. There are other things beside the military,’” Ammons said of his wife.
But, the military is a major part of their lives. While Morgan and Dylan have routed their paths of success and progression through the Army, James III (or JC) is set to become a Seabee officer.
At 18, JC is the baby of the family, and according to Ammons, he, like Dylan, had the opportunity to see other colleges, West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy.
“(JC) got into SLE at West Point and the Summer Seminar at Annapolis, but COVID happened,” Ammons said. “West Point cancelled SLE, but the Navy held theirs virtually, so he didn’t get the same experience as his sisters.”
With COVID already casting a cloud on his academy summer experience, JC was faced with another bitter pill to swallow. He was disqualified for military service because of scoliosis. Yet, he was determined to attend one of the academies. JC’s choice was the Navy.
“We had to submit a medical waiver. One Sunday afternoon, (JC) received his medical clearance from the Navy, and that following Monday he received clearance from the Army,” Ammons said. “(JC) chose the Naval Academy at Annapolis. He liked the structure and the capabilities of the ship. (This) was best for him to be an engineer officer."
According to Ammons, education is a critical element for their family. He said his wife stresses that.
“She’s the nucleus of this operation – she grounds all of us. My wife wants our kids to be great people,” Ammons said. “We always strive for our kids to be the best at whatever they do – whether you are a police officer, garbage man; it doesn’t matter, you just have to be the best that you can.”
So, as the three Ammons children pursue their military officer careers in the Army and Navy, their journey will make for interesting family times.
As for future family gatherings – Go Army! Beat Navy!
“My younger brother, JC, is very competitive, so I think he will be the biggest trash talker in the house,” Morgan said. “My sister and I will stay humble and wait until the end of the game to talk smack because that is just our personalities. My dad is the one who will try to get us fired up and push the rivalry on some excellent family competition. My mom will cheer for both teams no matter what the outcome is.”
And, the T-shirt is already in the design process.
“We are already working on the shirt,” Ammons said. “The shirt has me on one side in my old Navy uniform with my son pulling on it; on the other side, we have my two daughters pulling on my Army uniform, and it says ‘House Divided,’ – it’s going to be a whole lot of fun!”