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380AEW Article

I wanted to serve - Senior Airman Rachel Johnson

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nieko Carzis
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing

In an interview with the 380th Public Affairs office Senior Airman Rachel Johnson opens up about her decision to join the U.S. Air Force, what drove her to serve, and hows she's helping Airmen at the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing. 


What were you doing the specific moment you decided to join the military? 

Gandhi once said, “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”

I sat in my beat-up Toyota Yaris, struggling to hold back tears that felt an unprecedented need to flow, as my mother consoled and comforted me. Like I am sure most have felt, I was in a slump and rut—I felt compelled to host my own pity party, toasted with pathetic mantras like “Nobody likes me and everybody hates me. I am going to eat some worms.” My life was in tug-a-war limbo, compelling me to hurry up, but at the same time wait. Though arguably successful, I felt behind and left out, as my once-close peers took over the world. I felt like I had been playing the waiting game and I did not know when anything would fall together.

It was in that moment, I promised myself to stop waiting for life to fall into place. I had toggled with the idea of joining the military for years, and I had kept putting it off because of different possible opportunities, which consequently all fell through. It was through this trial that I truly began to discover myself—the things I wanted, and ultimately the woman I wanted to become.   

What was the deciding factor that drove your decision to military service?

Throughout life, I have admired service and a servant’s attitude. Movies and books have romanticized the soldier and warrior, idolizing characteristics of loyalty, commitment, and respect. The pairing, of social constructs and my own goals, inevitably drew me to fall more madly in love with the idea of heroic service. I had spent years, from as early as 11 volunteering and heading up different community enrichment projects, but none had yet permitted me to be a hero. I knew innately being a hero in this way and form would not only make me proud of myself, but would make my family proud.

What did it feel like when you finished BMT and learned what your career path would be? What was your first assignment?

After closing out my wonderful BMT experience, I was more excited than ever to embrace my career. While settled into one of the 10 buses headed to the airport, I could not help but wonder, what new world I would unravel in my discovery of Emergency Management. Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Warfare sounded riveting and riddled with adventure. So for the time, my mind played out scenarios of possible realities, but none would capture what was to come. In hours, which totaled up to a day, I was rolled out of a van and into day room set up. I was at Fort Leonard Wood, or as so many have affectionately coined, “Fort Lost in the Woods.” The cumulative experience was unlike any other, through technical training, I met the most amazing people and indulged in the most mind boggling material. I felt like I was Jasmine on a magic carpet ride, captivated by the view, I never could have possibly imagined.

Once I was released from Technical training, and sent off to Travis Air Force Base, I was as eager as always. It had become a default stance on the military and my career. In no time at all, I was embedded in both the Reserve and Active Duty components—playing in base-wide exercises, real-world emergency operations, teaching thousands of “CBRNE-DSS” classes, generating new forms and, every emergency manager’s favorite, checklists. I quickly found that I was surrounded by many incredible Emergency Managers, with vast experience and expertise. They taught me the value of a good support network, and the significance of teamwork. They embodied excellence and service, always committing everything they could to the mission’s success.     

Can you summarize what Air Force life has been like for you up till you found out you were deploying to ADAB?

Life has continued as an adventurous roller coaster since I joined the military. Despite being a traditional reservist, I had spent the better part of my enlistment on active duty orders. It seemed I would close one undertaking to stumble into yet another. Through the various explorations, I met the most amazing people across multiple branches, each service component, and from all across the world. The stories span from bed downs with the Army Chemical Battalion in Wisconsin to special courses and training alongside Fire, EOD, and other outside agencies. I have learned more than I can recall and still know there is much more to learn. Endless opportunities have been afforded to me, since promising myself to take the bull by the horns, and embrace life. Quickly I have learned to say yes to every opportunity and challenge within reason.  I have not regretted a single choice since.

Finding out I was deploying can be chalked up to small diversion in the endless roller coaster, a climax before the exhilarating plunge. I am sure there will be many more to come. As I saw it then and still see it now, it was and is an opportunity for me to learn and grow.

My family definitely took the hardest hit, but even they understand. My heart hurts most for them, realizing that my desire for adventure and personal growth comes at a cost, and one they have to pay even though they never actually enlisted. The challenges of being away persist, but the opportunities prevail. Such prevalence, has even led to vast growth and opportunity for all of us, my family and me, and has inspired each of us to push beyond our own self-imposed glass-ceilings. Even now, I have witnessed my younger brother, the dweeb-child in all his glory, apply for the U.S. Naval Academy. My sister, like-wise, has stepped up her game, through selfless service, caring for the mentally-ill and disabled. Though the distance and separation is hard, it continues to be a driving factor for growth.

What are you doing here at ADAB? What is your day like, and how do you feel connected to the mission? 

Here at Al Dhafra Air Base, I sit in a special assignment seat as the alternate 380 Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron (ECES) Unit Travel Representative (UTR). SSgt Seller’s and I coordinate and track the travel for emergency leave, forward deployment, reposition, extension, early release, deployment and redeployment for all the members in my unit.  In layman’s terms, I ensure no one gets left behind when we load the planes up to return home. This job highlights the strategic level planning that goes into each of the individual taskings assigned here at ADAB and in the whole AOR. I truly get to see the birds eye view, and more importantly I hold the vital task of returning members home to their families.   

How are you making the best of your deployment?

I have made the most of my deployment by focusing on career driven self-improvement (in the gym and in the books). At the same time, I have been sure to stay busy and engaged by participating and volunteering for as many activities as possible. Namely, I have had the privilege of supporting the Special Observance Committee as well as a variety of other deserving organizations here on base. Through these groups and sub-communities, I have had the chance to meet the array of amazing people and employ positive change in ADAB culture. It has been the greatest privilege to support my fellow service members in these varying capacities, and I look forward to the next opportunity. 

If you could have one thing said about your time in service here at Al Dhafra, what would you want your fellow Airman to say about you?

I hope by the time I leave, that people will remember two things: I am a dependable servant and I will do whatever is needed accomplish the mission.  

If you could give your younger self a piece of advice of what your life would be like after you joined the Air Force, what would you say to re-assure your younger self that everything was going to be okay?

If you could give my younger self a piece of advice, I would say, “Just keep swimming.” No matter the challenges you face, there will always be another day—a better one. Keep a positive attitude, and never give up your vivacity for service, growth and opportunity.