As Camm Johnson approached the podium to speak at his mother's funeral, he noticed how the church was filled with people as far as his eyes could see. In the back standing against the wall was a sea of gray; over 60 cadets from the U.S. Military Academy wore their dress uniforms to support him during his time of loss.
In a letter that recommended Johnson, 24, as a candidate for the Lt. Gen. Robert Foley Scholarship of Honor Award, he was described as universally loved and respected by his peers for having an infectiously positive personality by Company C-2 Tactical Officer Maj. Jonathan Leggett.
Johnson received the award Dec. 19 before graduating the following day, a non-traditional time of year to earn his degree and give his first salute as a commissioned officer. Despite his outstanding accomplishments and experiences at West Point, Johnson had to take six months off from the academy.
His mother was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2017 and her improvement gradually reached a plateau and then she started to decline. Johnson decided taking care of his mom was a priority. He knew he would never get time back with her and that graduation would always be there, so he exchanged his academy uniform to take on the role of a caregiver.
"We had conversations about what my mom wanted to see from us as life moves forward, which at the time was really difficult. Looking back, those conversations were very meaningful and important to us. They helped us cope with everything in the moment," Johnson said. "She wanted to be there to see me and my sister graduate and get married. It was inspirational to see her keep the faith, stay positive, fight the good fight and just be grateful for time she got to spend here."
Mrs. Johnson passed away in January 2019, but this was not the first time he'd lost a parent to cancer. His father died when he was 5 years old in 2001.
"Going back and reading my dad's notes, I found a letter after he just finished up a round of chemo," Johnson said. "He said he couldn't wait to come home and watch "Land Before Time" with his two kids. That was cool to read that he was battling through this and looking forward to something so mundane."
Johnson said that once his father died, he moved with his mother and sister from Ohio back to Richmond, Virginia where they were originally from to be closer to his family again. He was surrounded by love to help fill the void, and life went on. His grandfather taught him how to ride a bike and his mother got him involved with sports.
Johnson was an active part of the local community throughout his upbringing and his mother was a big part of that. He said she was "the ultimate team mom" and gave friends a ride home from practice or let people get cleaned up and eat at his place after a game. She was also an art teacher at schools like Longwood University.
The Richmond church her funeral reception was held in, also the church where Johnson's parents were married, was filled beyond max capacity. He shared that she was a kindhearted, caring and influential person who touched many people's lives. Others have said great things about her son, Camm Johnson.
An excerpt from Leggett's memorandum said that "Cadet Johnson's decision to postpone his graduation and commissioning to help care for his mother demonstrates a high degree of selflessness and commitment.
Throughout the past two years, he has shown an uncommon level of maturity and resiliency as he has faced trials yet unseen by many of us well above him in age."
The Brigade Tactical Unit at West Point was tasked with reviewing cadet files to identify a person most deserving of the Lt. Gen. Robert Foley Scholarship of Honor award. The scholarship pays tribute to Foley's actions in the Vietnam War. He was a recipient of the Medal of Honor, which is the highest recognition for bravery in the United States.
Johnson was someone who went through major obstacles yet emerged from the West Point journey successfully and was recognized as excelling within the four pillars of the academy: academically, militarily, physically and as a leader of character.
"There's a lot of cadets here that do incredible things, but I'm humbled that I was chosen because there are other people who do great and greater things," Johnson said.
Johnson's notable accomplishments while attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point include:
• Exceeded the requirements for the Indoor Obstacle Course Test.
• Graduated with a 3.8 GPA.
• Joined the USMA Parachute Team where he accumulated over 600 jumps and designed demonstration plans for football games and parades. He also trained underclassmen.
• Attended airborne school in addition to learning how to balance academic work and physical fitness which contributed to his development as a future officer.
• Selected to be Company Commander of his units during summer tactical and field training at Camp Buckner and at the Royal Sandhurst Academy in England with the British military.
• Served as the Honor Non-Commissioned Officer his junior year, which gave him the responsibility of investigating honor system violations (such as cadets cheating) and giving character references.
The award included a signed copy of "The Medal of Honor Portraits of Valor" book, the Scholarship of Honor Medallion personally engraved with a message from Lt. Gen. Foley and a gift certificate toward the purchase of a dress watch at the Cadet Store.
Johnson said upon returning to West Point that he realized the impact the institution and people he associated with have had on him. He shared that the parachute team, the instructors he got close with and people in the mechanical engineering department made up an amazing
"I hope other cadets who deal with difficult circumstances in their lives can find support through West Point. The classmates I have gotten to know over the past four years are the most influential and inspiring people I have met, continuing to push me to get better each day," Johnson said.
Johnson will soon become an Engineer officer at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington with the 2nd Brigade. He aspires to continue honing his field skills by attending ranger and sapper schools before starting his assignment.