The purpose of this post is to honor one of the finest men I’ve ever known, TSgt. Carl Johnson.
People join the military for a variety of reasons. With me, I would see the pictures of my dad in his Army uniform and think that it was the coolest thing in the world. Later, I would be amazed by the men and women throughout the history of our great nation who served and sacrificed so much for our freedom. I knew from an early age that if I wear the uniform that I can be counted among those honorable people.
TSgt. Carl Johnson is one of those people.
It was about this time of year in 1987 that I had just finished basic training at Lackland, AFB in San Antonio TX and took the famous bus ride to Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls TX to begin my training as a “902” (Medic)
When I began my classroom training there was this one guy who was already on active duty that was cross training into the medical field. His name is Carl Johnson and we hit it off right away.
You’ll notice the beret in his family picture. They don’t give those away. He was a TACP. If you’ve ever been watching Fox News or CNN and saw an American airstrike happening, you might have seen a guy on the ground wearing UASF stripes and a microphone, that’s a TACP calling in the airstrike.
He had moved into the USAF-Res and was from the unit I enlisted into at Scott, AFB…small world!
We hung out together constantly. We both still share a love for guitars that if left unchecked could quickly become a problem financially!!
While we were in Texas, I took pictures of his one and only rodeo cowboy experience! He did great, missing a perfect saddle bronc ride by a mere 6 seconds!!! I’ll never forget the conversation we had with one of the livestock handlers when we first got there. Carl had just drawn his horse.
Handler: How many rodeos have you been in?
Carl: counting this one, 1
Handler: what event?
Carl: saddle bronc
Handler: what horse did you draw?
Carl: (handing him the form with the horses number) this one
Handler: (turning to shout to an ambulance parked nearby) Ya’ll better keep’er a runnin’!!
Me and Carl: haha….ha…umm…
That event left an indelible impression on Carl! Particularly around the shoulder blade region!! If I remember correctly that horse went on to be virtually un-rideable with one of the big Texas rodeo circuits.
A couple of months later I got into some trouble resulting in an Article 15. I felt as though my life was spiraling out of control.
Carl made some calls and when the Commander of the USAF School of Health Care Sciences was to adjudicate my case he was flooded with letters asking for leniency. I was told that some were from classmates and instructors and even my drill sergeant wrote one. My Article 15, he said, would be put into a UIF (unfavorable information file) in my permanent record. It was a career destroyer for sure. I was angry and defeated. It looked like I’d be a failure at this just like so many other parts of my life. Carl kept encouraging me and never gave up on me.
A few years later, at Scott, I went to take a look at my record to update my address and such. I noticed that my Article 15 wasn’t there nor was the UIF. I asked the airman at the desk about it.
He said the reserves don’t recognize UIF’s. He said that when they receive a record, anything that’s not on the checklist of recognized files gets shredded! The commander knew this and that’s why he ordered the UIF!! If Carl hadn’t done what he did then I would have left the military in shame. He was exactly the stability I desperately needed.
We were medics but with his Law enforcement background he headed up security. I got to split my time between security and medical duties.
We were literally in the middle of the desert and used outhouses for our latrines.
One day a sewer truck came barreling through the main security checkpoint called “Bravo 4” without stopping. He hit one of the barricades and nearly a couple of people. As he went by me I grabbed the armature of the mirror on the driver’s door of the truck, jumped on the running board and shoved the muzzle of my M-16 into the driver’s ear and screamed STOP!! He did. I don’t know who was more scared, him or me! So, just as I’m wondering “Well, he stopped, now what?” I feel a tap on my back and hear Carl, very calmly say “Can I take over now?”
It turns out that the kid driving the truck was running quite late and was sure he’d get fired. Carl called the Marine MP’s up the road who came and cleared everything up.
Carl also had an alter-ego named Carl “The Truth” Johnson who he would unleash on us when things were getting uptight or very boring.
He’d push the bill of his hat up in the front and start this “Proud redneck” swagger and start each story with “There I was, out on Bravo 4” and would unfold the most hilarious stories! I remember part of one about being surrounded by 5000 Iraqis and only having a pocket knife and a dog tag chain. He tied the pocket knife to the dog tag chain and swung it around over his head! “I was going through Iraqis like a buzz saw through cord wood!!!” He’d just make it up as he went, completely in character!
He would completely pull you in to the story so you were hanging on every word! Then he’d just stop…cliffhanger!! You’d want to just scream at him “SO WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?????”
He’d smile and say “Well I got killed of course!!!”
That’s the kind of person he is. Good, Honest and full of integrity.
We lost touch for 10 years or so. When his phone number didn’t work, I assumed they had switched to cell phones. I could usually get a hold of him through his work at the Evansville Police Dept. where he was a police officer. One day when I called, the dispatcher said he didn’t work there anymore.
I had searched Facebook many times without success until one day at my restaurant. I hadn’t looked in a while and sure enough, there he was!
A few months later, with absolutely no warning, He and his wife Lois came walking into my restaurant!!
We talked and laughed and joked! It was a great visit! He had some brisket with some of the sauce I made there. He fell instantly in love with the sauce! Well, and the brisket too… He said “Do you know what you have here? We have to get this in stores!! What would it take?” I said money and laughed. He wasn’t laughing. He said “I have the money. What would it take? Find out and call me” 2 Vets BBQ was born! Well, honestly we’re only 1 vet because Carl is still serving!!
On March 5th 2016, Carl Johnson is retiring.
If you know Carl, then you know that he will leave a hole that they won’t be able to fill. Behind the zany humor and goofy jokes there is a very serious and determined man who takes his duties VERY seriously and he does them VERY well. Carl is EXACTLY the man you want defending this great nation.
I am proud to be his friend!
Carl, on behalf of a grateful nation, Thank you!!