CENTREVILLE — When Eric Johnson Jr. left the Air Force after nine years of service and a combat deployment, answering the call to continue a new mission in civilian life came naturally.
Johnson, who was honorably discharged with the rank of major, soon found his place as the Emergency Management planner in the Special Ops Division for the Queen Anne’s County Department of Emergency Services.
“I learned important lessons like to persevere no matter what, to put service before self and to strive for excellence in all things. Also, that freedom isn’t free,” said Johnson.
Addressing the many duties DES has in Queen Anne’s County is never an easy task, but lessons learned in uniform have made the transition to the stress of the job that much easier.
Fundamental skills like teamwork, communication and the ability to plan complex operations on a large scale are the cornerstones of the job.
“I think military service taught me that I was stronger than I thought and that I could persevere through some of the toughest challenges imaginable,” Johnson said. “I did so by working side by side with my brothers and sisters in arms.”
Johnson said his military service, especially his deployment to Afghanistan, changed who he was on many levels. He admits while some of these changes were for the better, others were for the worse.
“I spent six months in Afghanistan and trained myself the entire time to shut down virtually emotionally so as to be in survival mode,” said Johnson. “Some people think you then spend six months returning to the person that you were, whereas, for many, it takes a lifetime of effort to resume a feeling of normalcy.”
According to Johnson, joining the military is a unique opportunity that must be entered into with open eyes.
The reality of modern deployments means much more stress for soldiers.
It also means that modern soldiers have more resources available to deal with the physical and psychological impacts of combat.
“Definitely consider the immediate and long-term impact of service since today’s military has more and longer deployments, and therefore higher risk for PTSD,” Johnson said. “That includes other service-connected health issues, as well.”
“I think you need to enter the service knowing that, like a tank or a weapon, you might come home needing repairs, and that it’s ok to ask for help,” he said.
Today, Johnson recalls his military service and current DES work with the same sentiment — pride in sacrifice for others.