Archive for Thursday, March 20, 2008

A safe return home

Soldier proud of work in Afghanistan as personal security guard for officers

Sgt. Daniel Johnson, left, cuts down a yellow ribbon that was hung for him by his son Daniel Johnson, 8, right. Johnson was deployed for Afghanistan in November 2006 and returned home Thursday, March 13.

Sgt. Daniel Johnson, left, cuts down a yellow ribbon that was hung for him by his son Daniel Johnson, 8, right. Johnson was deployed for Afghanistan in November 2006 and returned home Thursday, March 13.

March 20, 2008

Sgt. Daniel Johnson is not a shy guy; in fact, he's known as "Mr. Personality" by his fellow soldiers because he can't go anywhere without starting a conversation with somebody.

But on Thursday, March 13, one day after coming home from a year-long deployment to Afghanistan, there was a calm, seriousness about him as he visited his son at Lansing Elementary School.

With his tall stature, shaven head and boots pounding the tile floor, Johnson's presence could be felt. But on that day he was there for one reason, and one reason only: to support his son.

"He is one of my best blessings," Johnson said as he looked down at his son at his side.

After his father was deployed in November 2006, LES second-grader Daniel Johnson, 8, hung a yellow ribbon in honor of his father. On Thursday, the father-son duo finally got the chance to cut that ribbon down to officially celebrate Johnson's safe return.

While in Afghanistan, Johnson was a personal security guard for a general officer, which he said was an interesting job that allowed him to meet a lot of great people.

"I met people and made friends that I'll keep for the rest of my life," he said.

Johnson said he's proud of the fact that in the 12 months he was in Afghanistan he never once had to draw his weapon. He said many soldiers sought their "action badge" before they left, but he said he looked at it as meaning he did his job right and did it with respect for the country. He said he thinks he did his job to the fullest and made an effort not to upset the balance of the country.

"We were there to help them rebuild and get back to where they can defend themselves and build an economic base everyone can be proud of," he said.

During his work, he said he never saw the "bad" side of Afghanistan. He said poverty was apparent, but that didn't stop locals from working as hard as they could. Despite their lack of basic technology, Johnson said the people worked hard for their families.

"These people have a better work ethic than many Americans do, in my opinion," he said.

When he wasn't working over there, he was in the gym getting in shape and doing anything he could to keep his mind away from missing his children at home.

He got to talk to his family through e-mails and phone calls every now and then, but he said the distance was still a struggle to deal with.

"I missed my children and family the most," he said of his son Daniel and daughter Dakota Renea, 9, who lives with her mother out of state. "I missed coming home and giving someone a hug just because they are family."

As he works through the process of readjusting to family life, he said he wants to help other soldiers who are having trouble adjusting. He said the demobilization the Army provides is helpful because they give all the information anyone could need, but he said some people just don't know how to handle the change.

He said that anyone who is having trouble adjusting after returning home should contact someone for help. The Army has so many resources, he said, that soldiers should be taking advantage of it to better their lives.

Back home, Johnson is an artist. He dabbles in a little bit of everything, but drawing is where his passion lies. Many of the pieces he drew while stationed in Afghanistan were taken by other soldiers and turned into tattoos.

Johnson said now that he's back, he has many plans and goals he wants to accomplish. Opening his own tattoo shop is one of them.

"I just have to learn how to tattoo first," he said with a laugh.

He would also like to go to art school and even finish the chemical engineering degree he started several years ago. But he quickly added that there were more important issues to deal with before that could happen.

Reacquainting himself with his children is the top priority. He said he has all the time in the world now and he wants to spend it with his children, which will start right away with teaching his son how to play chess.

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