The Naval Academy Graduate Who Bear-Hugged President Bush in 2001 Reflects On His Life 17 Years Later

Bobby Rashad Jones | AP Photo

In case you need a feel-good story for Thanksgiving, the Virginian-Pilot’s Brock Vergakis caught up with Bobby Rashad Jones, the Naval Academy “anchor” of 2001 (a name given to the midshipman who graduates with the lowest grade-point average of each class). Jones was so excited to receive his commission that he bear-hugged his commencement speaker — who happened to be President George W. Bush.

In his enthusiasm, he accidentally lifted President Bush up off of the ground. “I didn’t know he was so light,” he said at the time. Jones repeated that this week in an interview with Vergakis, saying, “I’m thinking it’s not a serious hug, not realizing I just got through playing football. The president is not that heavy. I didn’t realize I picked the man up.”

Although the moment seemed humorous, an officer on stage was quick to react by pulling Jones away from the president.

“Admiral Locklear [Academy commandant] had to calm me down. He said, ‘You don’t want to get shot, do you?'” Jones said at the time, referring to the president’s Secret Service.

Meanwhile, Jones said his family didn’t know what to think.

“My sister thought I was going to get shot, my mom was trying to take pictures and my dad was like, ‘What the hell is he doing?'” Jones said.

Jones was penalized for his moment of indiscretion; according to the Pilot, academy leadership called him in for a meeting within days of the incident to discipline him, he was sent to Japan instead of coaching football at the academy’s prep school, and he was required to write letters of apology to Navy leadership.

“At first I was mad about it. I was very mad,” Jones said. “But that was the other lesson I learned in the Navy and it stuck with me: accountability.”

It was a challenge for Jones to balance being a student-athlete with the additional responsibilities of attending the Naval Academy, but he ultimately persevered and met the minimum GPA graduation requirement. Then, after commencement, he served aboard the U.S.S. Germantown, as a United Nations peacekeeper in Liberia, and at the Missile Defense Agency in Colorado. He likes to use his career to reassure others who are struggling or worried about their futures.

He remains thankful for what he has received as a result of his experience in the military. His wedding was held at the Naval Academy chapel, and his two children were born at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth.

“Everything I needed to be successful in my adult life and not just be a citizen, but a contributing member of society, the United States Navy has given me,” he said. “I don’t know what I’d be doing without this.”

And Bush hasn’t forgotten about Jones, who he mentioned during the Class of 2005’s commencement address, with Jones in attendance.

“Bobby was the anchorman of the Class of 2001. He was the guy that gave me that bear hug. Four years later, my ribs still hurt. So don’t get any ideas,” Bush said that day.

Jones has since achieved the rank of commander. According to the Pilot, when Jones takes command of Coastal Riverine Squadran Four — his first tour as commanding officer — he intends to invite Bush to the change of command ceremony.

May we all be as optimistic and thankful as Commander Bobby Rashad Jones this year. Happy Thanksgiving!

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.