FALLS CHURCH VA; - Spending seventeen years of his life in the Army, both Active Duty and Army National Guard, kept Sgt. Michael Johnson in line with his plan as a career Soldier. Yet, as everyone knows, plans can change in the blink of an eye as did Johnson’s in July of 2020. This is a story about cooking but the ingredients to get there may surprise you. It all started with a fall.
“I sustained a leg injury while in Poland on Operation Deterrent. I was conducting PT in the field and was on an old military base, I was full sprint, fell in a hole and blew out my left leg and had to be medical evacuated to Landstuhl, Germany then on to the Fort Belvoir Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU).”
Diagnosed with a tear in his meniscus and arthritis, Johnson began therapy and injections. While going through this at the Fort Belvoir SRU he had severe headaches, so he went to a neurologist. Johnson got the shock of his life to learn he had bigger problems than an injured leg. “I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).”
Johnson is not sure how long he’s had MS. The Veteran of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom recalls past injuries on deployments and wonders. “We push ourselves. If I felt anything irregular, I wouldn’t have known. I was in combat, I‘m sure I thought any twitch or muscle failure was due to exerting myself to get the job done.” said the former Fuel and Transportation Specialist.
He admits he’s had some difficult moments at the beginning of his time at Fort Belvoir SRU. “I didn’t respond well to the treatment and it took a while to recover. Hearing something like you have MS can take a toll on you emotionally too. I had to dig deep. I had many dark days and nights where I really didn’t have a vision of what the future looked like,” said the 40-year-old.
The cadre at the Fort Belvoir SRU had plenty of programs to guide him to a brighter future and one was the perfect recipe for success. You see, Johnson has always enjoyed cooking for family, Soldiers and friends over many years but never thought of it as a career. Until now.
“The Kitchen of Purpose Program is great. The first day when they got into measurements and dicing it was stuff I hadn’t experienced before. I just started soaking it up. It’s making me a better chef for sure.”
It’s also making him a better person by his own admittance. He made two hundred meals for those in need during the holidays. “I would drive up Route One with the food that I made at Fort Belvoir and hand it out to the homeless because they were more visible during the holidays. It made me more selfless and aware, and it gave me purpose,” said the Chef who continues to hand out more than food to those in need.
Johnson is appreciative of the support from cadre at the Intrepid Center and the Fort Belvoir SRU for boosting his confidence and helping him see he can do anything no matter what.
“I created a cooking page on Instagram and developed a non-profit called the ‘Healing Process.’ All of this happened because I was offered many avenues to recover, and I accepted them all. It turns out I have a gift for cooking.”
He’s well on his way with his gift and pushes other Soldiers to explore their passion. “I’m taking it one step at a time, and I’m blessed to have these opportunities and the strength to continue on this journey that the SRU provides.”