MADISON, Wis. – It was standing room only. All eyes were on the man in the front. He stood tall and proud at attention – hands cupped into a tight fist, arms straight and tight against his sides.
The master sergeant had incredible military bearing. Even as he received the Purple Heart, he remained calm and collected. The only glimpse of pride he showed was after he received the medal, as he looked up at the crowd of people who were there to support him.
“To look out and see everyone there, and to have my wife and family there to see it, how can you not feel proud?” asked Master Sgt. Joshua Johnson, 115th Fighter Wing budget analyst. “Seeing the faces of those you respect clapping back at you is a humbling experience.”
Wisconsin’s assistant adjutant general for Air, Brig. Gen. Gary L. Ebben, was in attendance to present the medal to Johnson.
“The Purple Heart is a very unique medal,” Ebben said. “It is one thing to say you’ll go into harm’s way, it’s another to go into harm’s way.”
Johnson began his military career as an Army infantryman. Going into harm’s way was a part of his everyday life during deployments.
“When you’re there, you feel like you’re on an island,” Johnson said. “You see the guy to the left and the guy to the right. You’re there to fight the war.”
While overseas, Johnson survived numerous improvised explosive device explosions. The one that eventually lead him to receive the Purple Heart award occurred on Nov. 8, 2005 during a deployment to Baghdad as a member of Company B, 4th Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment.
“The Purple Heart isn’t the medal those overseas want to receive,” he said. “If you receive that medal, you’ve been injured.”
Johnson could have died that day.
The vehicle he was in drove over an IED. When it exploded he was jarred from his gunner’s seat and knocked unconscious. He does not remember how long he was unconscious, but he thinks it was at least a few minutes.
Later on, his battle buddies found shards of metal embedded in a cooler. That cooler happened to be sitting on the left side of Johnson’s head prior to the explosion. Had that cooler not been there then, Johnson likely would not be here today.
Those shards of metal now lay on his desk as a constant reminder that it does not matter what job those in the military are doing – what matters is the fact that they raised their right arms. They volunteered to go into harm’s way for the freedom of others.
Even those who have never been overseas deserve to be thanked for their service, Johnson said. It does not matter if they are in finance or public affairs or services. Each and every career field has a purpose in the total force structure, and each is needed to accomplish the missions assigned.
“I want to say thank you to those who are here for doing what you do, so those who are over there can do what they do,” Johnson said.