By Annette Gomes, Warrior Care and TransitionJanuary 9, 2018
ARLINGTON, Va. - Reinventing yourself is never easy, it usually means diving into a new and improved version of yourself head-first. After 15 years in the Army, it's the position Sgt. Burnis Johnson found himself in March of 2015, after bulging discs and nerve impingement on both sides of his back that made it impossible to complete his duties as a wheeled vehicle mechanic.
"The back injuries are what ultimately made it impossible for me to stay in the Army," Johnson said. "I was unable to train and lead Soldiers in the eyes of my leadership. I was sent to the Brigade Surgeon for a follow up on my medical readiness and at that point the unit was ready to chapter me out of the Army."
A few weeks later, Johnson met with his doctors and worked to schedule the surgery. Following the surgery, Johnson received notice he was being transferred to Fort Belvoir's Warrior Transition Battalion to heal. After 15 years as a vehicle mechanic in the Army, Johnson realized it was time for a career change.
"For the first time in my life, I started to see what stress really feels like," Johnson recalled. "I had to find a new line of work to get into. I didn't' want a job. I needed a career. Something that I can do anywhere. Something that I can do that is not going to put stress on my back. I thought about Information Technology…then I talked myself out of it."
However, fate would intervene as the Maryland native would receive several signs he should explore the world of IT. After a brief internship at the Pentagon Force Protection Office, he seized what he called many "golden opportunities."
"During my internship, I met a lot of people and made connections with other veterans who shared with me how they transitioned from their military careers. They told me to hang in there, and it would be rough in the beginning, but I would find my way and it would get easier. They also told me that in the meantime, I should use my benefits to go to school and learn a new trade," Johnson said.
A short time later, Johnson met a clerk in the office that made him think about pursuing a career in IT. He also met several parents at his daughter's flag football game that were gainfully employed as IT specialists. The last sign he received came from a new neighbor who spoke openly to him about his career in the IT field and that he was happy and making a lot of money.
"I knew nothing about computers, but all the signs pointed me in that direction," Johnson said.
Johnson didn't let his lack of knowledge about computers hold him back, he dived right into his next journey in life and began taking a nine month Computer Support Technician course. After graduating from the course, he received his certification. Two months later, he began and completed an Associate's Degree Program in Computer Networking. Today, Johnson is currently enrolled in University of Maryland University College working toward a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Networking with Cybersecurity.
Johnson says that they are "baby steps" in his effort to reach the finish line of the race he began while recovering at the Warrior Transition Battalion.
"I was able to use the programs the WTB offers to meet people who were just like me; individuals transitioning back into civilian life. The resources work as long as you are willing to seek out the information and ask questions. You may have two to three careers in your life time. There will be setbacks, but you have to roll with the punches. Life is what you make it."