Jesse Cox and the Quest for Answers

At first glance, he wouldn’t seem like the type of guy who would ride his motorcycle from North Africa to South Africa.

After hearing him talk in his humble voice, he wouldn’t seem like he gets his kicks by climbing 200-foot cliffs or that he is a former Marine crew chief who used to soar through the skies in helicopters.

And after learning about his past adventures, you wouldn’t guess his day job.

Jesse Cox is a missionary with the Navigators, an international, interdenominational, non -profit organization, dedicated to helping people navigate spiritually and promote his religion.

He uses his past experiences and love for other people to mentor young men and women who wear the uniform he once proudly wore himself.

Jesse was originally born in Lafayette, Ind., but later in his childhood he moved to Kenya so his dad could work there as a professor and later as a missionary.

Eventually he made it back to the states to attend high school, but after a year in college he decided he wanted more in life; he wanted to go back to the continent he loves. He did the unthinkable, what most people would only dream – ride his motorcycle from Ethiopia to Zimbabwe.

“I thought I would find happiness and fulfillment by chasing these crazy cool adventures,” said Cox. “My motorcycle trip in Africa was like an initiation trip. It was a definitive time for me when I went from a boy to a man.”

During the summer of 1998 there was a civil war between the Eritreans and the Ethiopians. He tried to get into Eritrea on his motorcycle, but was turned away by soldiers wielding AK-47s at the border.

“We were in a place called Mekelle up in northern Ethiopia and about a week after we left it got air raided,” said Cox. “It was some of the most terrifying times of my life.”

One night sticks out the most in the back of his mind.

“I got separated from the group and my motorcycle broke down,” said Cox. “I basically spent the night shivering between a bush and a rock in the middle of nowhere in the highlands of Ethiopia. I had no idea where my group was. It was a huge faith-building time for me. I was 20 years old and I didn’t worry about too much.”

When he returned from his trip, he met a friend who also returned from a trip of his own to a little place called Parris Island. After seeing his friend in uniform, Cox knew exactly what he had to do.

“He told me how great his experience was and just kept talking it up,” said Cox. “I knew they were the baddest of the bad. I felt like it was my next big adventure. It was something I wanted to be a part of.”

While serving his time in the Corps, he was stationed here in New River with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadrons 464 and 463 as a CH-53 ‘Super Stallion’ crew chief. During his five years of service, he also flew helicopters in places like Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines.

“I would sometimes work on helicopters for 12 hours a day,” said Cox. “I realized early on that I didn’t want to give my life to big chunks of metal.”

Cox made it clear that relationships are the most important things in his life. The Marine Corps was a large part of that.

“I had a great experience in the Marine Corps. I wouldn’t give that up for the world,” added Cox. “I learned so much about leadership and responsibility.”

Many who get out of the Marine Corps, think about getting a job or using the GI Bill to go to college. But that wasn’t for Cox. He needed another adventure and embarked on a five-month backpacking trip across Europe.

“It was a trip of a lifetime,” said Cox. “When we were in Europe for five months, we only paid for five nights of lodging. Every other night we stayed in city parks, golf courses, the country or the mountains. We saw all sorts of stuff.

“Everything was stripped from me,” added Cox. “My life was reduced to where I was going to sleep that night and what I was going to eat or where I was going to find water. It brought simplicity into my life.”

After his European adventure, he decided he wanted to continue to offer leadership and guidance to Marines and sailors.

“I take the Gospel on base to Marines and sailors and just ride alongside of these younger guys and help them with some of the deep questions that I had in life,” said Cox. “We teach them how to make good relationships and help them to help themselves.”

Cox holds a Bible study every Wednesday night at his house. While feeding their guests with talk about life, Cox and his wife, Katy, also make sure they have a home-cooked meal.

“I have experienced what they are experiencing,” said Cox. “In a sense I am an insider. My wife and I love serving Marines. When I was in the Marine Corps it was the greatest thing to be invited over to someone’s house and get a home-cooked meal, I like to do the same thing.”

One of the Marines in the group, Lance Cpl. James P. Johnson, a crew chief student at Marine Medium Tiltrotor Training Squadron 204, enjoys hanging out with Cox and attending the study.

“He’s an awesome guy, I learn something new every time I go to his bible study,” said Johnson, an Athens, Penn., native. “He did what everyone else just dreams about doing.”

With his past experiences and humble personality, Cox makes a great friend for Marines and sailors in Jacksonville.

“It is better than any other adventure,” said Cox. “I wouldn’t be doing what I do if I didn’t have a love for Marine and sailors.”


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