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Hanging up his uniform, for good

A career in the military isn't for everyone, but it was "the right stuff" for Detroit Lakes native Brian K. Johnson -- up until about a month ago, that is.

Johnson retired Oct. 1 after 24 years with the U.S. Army, having attained the rank of sergeant first class (SFC).

He enlisted right out of high school.

"I had talked to the recruiter a couple of times during my senior year, and signed the delayed entry (enlistment form) just as I was about to graduate," Johnson said.

"It was just one of those things... I have five older brothers, and there's only one of us who didn't join the military."

Johnson reported for basic training on Aug. 5, 1986, at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, where he would also undergo advanced individual training, or A.I.T., before getting his first duty assignment, with the 79th Engineer Battalion in Karlsruhe, Germany.

"My main job was transportation and logistics," he said. "It was transporting anything from supplies and food to ammunition to people. I pretty much did that my whole career."

Along the way, Johnson was deployed to serve in combat four times, with Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield; Operation Restore Hope in Somalia; as a member of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Implementation Force; and in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

He also served at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, Fort Drum in New York, Fort Carson, Colorado, and at both Fort Hood and Fort Sam Houston in Texas.

He has earned a Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal with five oak leaf clusters, Army Achievement Medal with four oak leaf clusters, Good Conduct Medal with silver clasp, Kosovo Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal with two bronze stars, Southwest Asia Service Medal with two bronze stars, Humanitarian Service Medal with two bronze stars, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and Kuwait Liberation Medal (from both Saudi Arabia and the government of Kuwait), among other awards.

Some of his more unusual jobs with the military have included serving as the personal aide and driver of a five-star general; helping to train Iraqi soldiers for combat; a stint as a drill sergeant; and working with a U.S. Army entertainment detachment in Virginia, helping to set up stage, sound and lighting for the performances of national recording artists such as Carrie Underwood, Toby Keith and Tim McGraw.

"It was a good assignment," Johnson said of his two-year stint with the entertainment detachment. "I got to meet a lot of people."

Some of his more famous acquaintances during his time in Virginia included Montgomery Gentry, Miranda Lambert, LeAnn Rimes, Big & Rich and Lynyrd Skynyrd, to name a few.

"It was a lot of work, but it was fun," he said.

Though he has spent most of his career in the military, Johnson did leave the service for about 10 months in 1992, when he moved back to Detroit Lakes.

"I worked for Lakes Jobbing and drove a semi tractor trailer over the road," he said of his time back in Detroit Lakes.

But the military was in his blood, so he went back.

"I missed the camaraderie, the support from my friends, and I missed the lifestyle," he said of his reasons for returning.

And even now, 33 days after his retirement, Johnson said there are still times when he wants to go back.

"I really didn't want to leave, but I was getting to the point in my life that I wanted to try another career," he said. "There are still times that I wish I hadn't gotten out, but it's really for the better."

Today Johnson works as a driver for Lowe's in San Antonio, Texas, where he lives with his youngest son, Cody, age 8. His older sons Chris, 21, and Chad, 24, live nearby in El Paso, though neither has chosen to follow his footsteps by entering the military.

Besides working in the delivery department at Lowe's, Johnson spends his days tinkering on the house he purchased in San Antonio last year.

"I'm constantly doing home improvement odds and ends," he said.

He also spends as much time as he can with his children, and enjoying the lakes in the area around San Antonio.

Though most of his family, including his parents and siblings, still live in Minnesota, Johnson said he doesn't get to visit as often as he would like.

"I usually get back there about once a year, or every other year," he said, adding that he tries to alternate between winter and summer visits "so I get a little bit of snow every now and again."

He also sometimes misses small town life.

"San Antonio has almost 2 million people, so the pace of things is a little faster here," Johnson said.

"I do miss the (small town) lifestyle," he added.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454