An Army Family Story
July 17, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. -- Although Richard Johnson was born in Huntsville, Ala., he didn't stay there for long. Throughout his life he moved from place to place because, unlike most kids his age, Richard was the son of a Soldier - an Army Brat. Richard's family made its final permanent change of station when he was 17; and he ended up back in Huntsville to graduate with the class of 1990 at Grissom High School. In July, shortly after graduation, he joined the Army and left for basic combat training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and continued his advanced individual training at Fort Gordon, Ga., where he trained to be a Microwave Systems Operator. Richard served as an enlisted Soldier for the first 12 years of his career, achieving the rank of Staff Sergeant before he decided to apply for Warrant Officer Candidate School in 2002.
Throughout his career, Richard was assigned to places like Taegu, Korea. He worked at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., from 1992-1995. He served in Baumholder Germany, where he was assigned to the Allied Forces Central Command with NATO. His last tour of duty was with the Central Command at MacDill Air Force base in Tampa, Fla. His deployments include Qatar and Iraq with the 112th Signal Battalion out of Fort Bragg, N.C., and he served two tours of duty in Afghanistan - the first with the 3rd Ranger Battalion based in Fort Benning, Ga., and the second while assigned to the Defense Information Systems Agency-Central at MacDill Air Force Base.
Richard earned his associate degree from the University of Phoenix and is currently working on his bachelor's degree in the IT field.
He and his wife of 21 years, Brenda, have three children, ages 17, 18 and 20, two of whom have enlisted in the Army. Ashley, Richard's oldest daughter, is currently serving in the military intelligence field at Fort Bragg, as a Human Intelligence Collector (35M). His son, 18-year-old Michael, is a graduate of Bloomingdale High School in Valrico, Fla., a suburb southeast of Tampa. Currently a Future Soldier in the Brandon Recruiting Center's Delayed Entry Program, Michael will ship out for basic combat training (BCT) less than a month after walking across the graduation stage. He enlisted as a 15F Aircraft Electrician, reported to BCT at Fort Jackson July 8, and will complete his advanced individual training at Fort Eustis, Va.
Richard is a humble, straightforward and easy going kind of guy; someone who can hold a conversation with a complete stranger with little or no difficulty. When asked of his influence over his offspring, he quickly dismisses any suggestion that he persuaded their decision to join the Army. After spending time with Richard and his son Michael, it was obvious he has been, without a doubt, a major influence in the path they chose to follow; but not in a way that you might expect from an Army dad.
"My dad never really pushed me or my sisters to join the military. He actually nudged us toward college," says Michael. "As far back as I can remember I wanted to join the Army, follow in my dad's footsteps. My dad has discipline and strong values that I admire. I want to have the same values and discipline that he has."
Michael didn't have to dig to deep to find words to describe the admiration he had for his dad. It appeared that this wasn't the first time that he had spoken of his father in this manner.
"My dad is different than my friends' dads. I don't know how to explain it, but I have a higher respect for my dad than I do of other dads, if that makes sense."
Michael explained that Army dads, at least his dad, are more direct, clear and decisive. Other Dad's are less disciplined, "they let my friends do what they want, when they want; play video games all night if they want to and so on," Michael said. When asked if there is a difference between military dads and non-military dads, he quickly replied, "Oh, Yeah! You can pick an Army dad out in a crowd. My dad has limits that other parents don't have and I respect him for that. Now that I'm older I understand the discipline that my parents instilled in me."
"I suppose my influence on my kid's decision to join the military was probably indirect in nature, if at all," Richard declares. "The mere fact that I was serving throughout my children's entire childhood probably played a bigger role in Ashley and Michael's decision to join, more so than me trying to push them in that direction."
Richard believes kids naturally want to emulate their parents, want to be like them and follow in their footsteps.
"I didn't aggressively push them towards the military. If anything, I pushed them to go to college, with hope that they would at least prepare themselves academically for college just in case the military wasn't, for whatever reason, an option for them."
While Richard pushed them toward college options, he maintains he never discouraged them from the military: "It probably wouldn't have worked anyway; military runs deep in our family."
Thinking of his kids' college education, Richard made the decision to transfer his GI Bill to them prior to retiring in 2011. Transferring the GI Bill after retirement would not have been an option, and he wanted to assist them in their college pursuit, if that's what they chose after graduating high school. Richard's oldest daughter Ashley quickly took advantage of her dad's Gi Bill, enrolling in college after graduating high school in 2011. Ashley's brother Michael said "Ashley became bored with college during her first year and wanted more excitement in her life, so she joined the Army. She too had considered the Army at an early age, so it wasn't a hard decision for her at the time."
Richards's father enlisted during the Vietnam era and served 23 years in the Army. He retired as a staff sergeant major in 1987.
"I had the same mindset as my son Michael," Richard said. "I knew at a young age that I was going to join the Army. My dad was no more an influence on my decision to join the Army than I had when it came to my children joining. I was not ready for college, and I knew I wasn't staying at home either! So yeah, my plan was to join the Army right after I graduated." Richard had other family members that had served too in various branches over the past 50 years, including his uncle, three brothers in-law, and both grandfathers.
When asked to describe some significant changes that have occurred since he joined, he said that the military's medical transition from CHAMPUS to TRICARE was a major change; it improved the care Soldiers received. He emphasized that the increased pay and benefits that Soldiers receive today has helped retain good Soldiers through the re-enlistment program. Richard was in BCT when Desert Shield/Desert Storm kicked off. He described what things were like after the first Gulf War early in his career.
"I remember the Army had started to downsize after Desert Storm and the focus was on training and sustainment as the Army was restructuring; education was not a priority. Today, Soldiers are encouraged, if not pushed, to further their education by taking advantage of the tuition assistance programs available to them while on active duty."
Richard said the family readiness program has dramatically improved the quality of life for Soldiers, as well as their families.
"After 10-plus years at war, the Army has made a valiant effort toward families: counseling, time off and family retreats, just to name a few. It's not perfect and much more can be done, but it does make a difference to today's Soldiers."
Richard retired in November 2011 at the rank of chief warrant officer 3 and currently works at ARMA, a Department of Defense contractor in Tampa, where he was recently promoted to IT director.
"Since I retired from the Army, I have the opportunity do more of the things I love to do; get to spend more time with the family. I love to fish and try to go every weekend. I also enjoy playing an occasional basketball and baseball game, but have realized that I'm not as quick on my feet as I used to be."
Richard also enjoys camping, but doesn't get to go as often as he would like. He is working to complete his bachelor's degree and ultimately wants to attain his MBA in the IT field.
Richard said that military service has taught him to be more patient and how to lead and take charge.
"When I joined the Army, I didn't think about the benefits I would receive after serving 20 years; I wasn't looking that far ahead. But here I am. I have medical coverage and a retirement check for the rest of my life! Not bad at all!"
"With more than 20 years of service, where the mission always came first, the feeling of knowing that I made a difference for my country, and my family, is probably the most rewarding benefit that I earned. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. I can only hope that my children and America's children will rise to the occasion if called upon. If kids choose not to serve in the military, I hope they serve something, serve a cause, become someone!"