NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Virginia – Over his 10 years in the service, Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Samuel Johnson has deployed four times to Iraq and Afghanistan. It was after a difficult deployment to Afghanistan in 2012 that he realized he was having trouble. ’s career isn’t unique in the post-9/11 military: a ten-year sailor, he’s done four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan that have taken a toll on him. But it’s what he did when the weight of the wars began impacting his relationships that makes him worthy of recognition.
After a difficult deployment to Afghanistan in 2012, he recognized that he was having trouble reforming re-connectingons with friends and family.
"I have a good group of friends and I'm really close to my family," Johnson recalled in an interview. "And when I got back from deployment I just wasn't reestablishing the relationships I had. I was withdrawing and wasn't being the healthiest person on earth. So I began to seek a change."
And He got involved found that change in an organization that brings veterans and interested civilians together for sports and social gatherings that work as a support group, friend circle and a way to keep fit and active. Within two years, he would led the group from almost non-existent in the military-laden Hampton Roads region to its status as one of the most vibrant group for young veterans in the area. For his enthusiastic leadership and impact in the lives of fellow vets, Johnson was picked as the 2016 Navy Times Sailor of the Year.
'Because of the team'
While Johnson was seeking out a way to reengage with life back in the states, he came across Team Red, White & Blue, a non-profit that builds a community among veterans and civilians through sports and social events.
"I saw this guy running a 5K holding an American flag," Johnson recalled. "I thought 'Man, that must be the craziest guy in the world, it creates so much drag.' But then I thought, 'Man, that's cool.' Then I found out he was doing it for Team Red, White & Blue so I looked into it."
Johnson went on the website and read every word on their website. He knew he wanted to get involved. To his surprise, he found that the group didn’t have a big chapter in the Hampton Roads area.
So he set to work.
Johnson took charge of the chapter, donning the trademark red shirts with the slogan, "Enriching veterans' lives" on the back, and took his small group to local events and 5K races around Hampton Roads. And as people came up to them and word spread, Johnson's chapter grew. And it grew.
Today the Hampton Roads chapter he leads has more than 1,200 members, a mix of post-9/11 veterans, troops, vets from other eras and civilians who want to be involved. Johnson says he puts between 35 and 45 hours a week into Team Red, White & Blue, practically a full-time job.
The winners of our 16th annual Military Times Service Members of the Year awards did not seek honors for the outstanding work they performed on the job and in their communities.
That is what makes this award so special: They were nominated by peers and commanders inspired by serving alongside troops who truly went above and beyond the call of duty. In shining a spotlight on the 2016 Service Members of the Year, we salute all who have volunteered to serve their nation in uniform.
This year's winners will be honored July 14 at a Capitol Hill gala with members of Congress and other VIPs.
At the Hampton Roads Team RWB Chapter, Johnson organizes everything from fun runs on Wednesday nights — which are followed by snacks and drinks — to CrossFit workouts and even a triathlon team.
At a recent fun-run, one team member put it succintly: "Without Sam, none of this would be happening."
Johnson's contribution to The title of Navy Times Service Member of the Years isn’t even his only honor of the year. In April his work with Team Red, White & Blue was recently recognized by Volunteer Hampton Roads, which honored him with their Volunteer Achievement Award in April.
For his part, Johnson credits the growth of his chapter to his volunteers and team members at Team RW&B.
HM1 Samuel Johnson, who's assigned to Navy Environmental and Preventative Medicine Unit 2, has spent as much as 35 hours a week volunteering with Team Red, White & Blue.
Photo Credit: Courtesy
"I was embarrassed," Johnson said. "The one thing I wanted to stress was that everything that has happened with the organization, it's because of the team. It's not just me."
But while Johnson pours his time and energy into Team Red, White & Blue off duty, on duty he’s a rock star. Johnson’s shipmates at Navy Environmental and Preventative Medicine Unit 2 say he's is the go-to guy when something needs to get done right and that his work ethic inspires those around him. That applies to his everyday duties and to his work as the command fitness leader.
"People want to emulate him," said Chief Hospital Corpsman Thomas DeWitt, one of Johnson's supervisors.
A Tennessee native, Johnson grew up looking up to his mother, a nurse practitioner. Johnson was inspired to pursue medicine during the visits to his mother's work.
He’s made two deployments each to Iraq and Afghanistan, including one tour with the Army ith the Navy, the Marine Corps and once with the Army as an individual augmentee, Johnson said.
A colleague at his command, HM1 Michael Bigelow, said Johnson is thorough and gets the job done right. When asked whether Johnson was the right person to be selected as 2016 Navy Times Service Member of the Year, Bigelow was unequivocal.
"I've served in the Navy 13 years, I've never met anyone more deserving."