Saturday, December 29, 2007

Father, Son Prepare For Stint In Iraq

FORT SMITH -- John Jay Johnson loves working on classic cars with his dad.

The two will have to put their tools in storage Jan. 2, though, when Johnson ships off to Camp Shelby, Miss., in preparation for a 12 month tour in Iraq with the 217th Brigade Support Battalion in Rogers.

The 22-year-old Guardsman, however, will still get a chance to reflect on the 1966 Chevrolet Impala he refurbished with the help of his dad. That's because his father, Sgt. 1st Class John Lawson Johnson, 44, will be serving alongside him in the same Army National Guard unit.

"There's a fear factor. Planning for the best, preparing for the worst," the elder Johnson said Friday in his son's Fort Smith apartment. "That's what we all do. I look at serving with him as a plus because at least I get to have an impact on his training, so he won't go over there and fail."

John Lawson Johnson, 44, works full-time in the Rogers National Guard Armory. He, his son and at least 92 others in Bravo Company of the 217th Support Battalion headquartered in Booneville, will report back to Fort Chaffee next week after 11 days of holiday leave. From there, they will leave for Camp Shelby, Miss., and then to Iraq to serve their country.

The company -- based in Rogers but not heavy in Rogers flavor -- never had a planned or elaborate send-off before they were called to premobilization training Oct. 1, Johnson said.

"You don't have eyes on you. We're spread out. We have people from Sebastian County to Branson, Mo., serving out of Rogers," he said. "We're not all wearing our uniforms in Rogers, eating at restaurants and rubbing elbows. It's hard for people to know about you."

Thus, Johnson said, no one planned a send-off like most, Capt. Aaron Cater said.

"We're a new unit with a lot of new soldiers," Cater said. "A lot of people just don't know about us."

The company was activated in April 2006 as part of the largest restructuring plan by the Arkansas Army National Guard since 1967.

Eleven months a year, the unit is at Fort Chaffee for drills, Johnson said. When there is a need to be in Rogers, the 217th is some times overshadowed by their brothers in Battery C of the142nd Fires Brigade. The two units share the Rogers armory, but the 217th rarely makes use of it, Johnson said.

"Because of our resources and where we have to train, it's understandable that not a lot of people have heard about us," he said.

The Johnson family lives in Charleston and Fort Smith, with dad driving often to Rogers to work at the armory. The elder Johnson also has another son, David Lawson Johnson, 19, who serves in the National Guard as an aviator.

David will travel to Virginia in April for a 16-week training session, while his father and older brother serve overseas.

"It's been hard," said John Lawson Johnson's wife, Ki Nam Johnson. "I've been crying almost every night. Nobody is going to be home to take care of me."

John Lawson Johnson met Ki Nam in Korea in 1984 during an overseas stint with the Army. They married that same year, and 23 years later have two sons serving along dad in the National Guard.

"Nobody likes me," Ki Nam Johnson joked.

Both sons joined the National Guard at early ages, with little persuasion from their dad, they said. Now, during drills and training, all three see each other on base at Fort Chaffee. Mom brings meals to the base for the three from time to time.

But reality will hit soon, John Lawson Johnson said. Ki Nam will be without her husband and oldest son for at least one year.

"(Reality) probably won't hit until I get off the plane and get that first shot of hot air in my face," her husband said.

Hopefully, John Lawson Johnson said, he and his oldest son will still get to see each other daily in Iraq. Dad will be handling operations and son will work in supplies. They will be working out of two separate buildings sectioned off by 15- to 20-foot-tall cement barriers at their Iraq base, the elder Johnson said.

"We'll probably have to take a few steps to see each other," father said. "But we'll probably see each other every day still."



Anonymous Anonymous said...

John Jay Johnson is a loser who I just caught planning to meet my wife for sex before he is shipped off to Iraq. I feel sorry for my two sons, I really didnt want them to have to go through a divorce like I did as a child. If anyone needs proof I can forward the nude pictures he sent my wife with the emails.

8:19 PM  
Blogger madtom said...

Well, not sure where to go with any of that...never a dull moment.

You have my condolences.

I would suggest marriage counseling. Maybe you can still work it out.

10:02 PM  

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