POCATELLO — Cpl. Jordan Johnson serves the Pocatello Police Department dutifully as a school resource officer but the road that led him there was inspired by the heroes and veterans that came before him and shaped by an era in American history that changed the landscape of this great nation forever.
Johnson enlisted in the Idaho National Guard when he was just 17 during a pre-9/11 world. Not long after his enlistment, a terrorist attack leveled the World Trade Center in New York and the United States became embroiled in a war in the Middle East.
“After I had enlisted I kind of knew at that point, I remember thinking, my involvement is probably going to change eventually.” Johnson said.
It was around 2004 and 2005 when Johnson was deployed to Northern Iraq with the local unit in Idaho.
“Starting out at 17-years-old, just from the get-go that was a really interesting wake up call,” Johnson said. “I was glad to do that because I look back and so much of what I’ve been able to do in my life and who I’ve become was heavily influenced by (my service)…. That was something that I felt deeply that I wanted to do anyway, to serve somehow. To be able to do that, at that age, was a big deal to me.”
Johnson continued, “When I was called upon for a deployment that was pretty surreal in a way, like many would probably imagine (and can) probably attest to as well. I still remember the day I was sitting at home and got the phone call. I was actually watching “Band of Brothers.” I still remember when I got that phone call and it was very real at that point…. Just thinking back at that moment, I still remember getting off the plane overseas and then especially when in northern Iraq when we got there and thinking how real it was. It’s an experience, getting close to the people that you serve with.
I was able to have experiences learning about different cultures and different parts of the world that otherwise I wouldn’t have. It’s given me different appreciation for a lot of different things. Since then, there’s just a bond that always ties you in regardless, with the veteran community, that it’s an unspoken thing, that when you know someone’s a veteran, you know that no two experiences are the same. But you also feel something that draws you together and that’s something that is really hard to quantify.”
Part of Johnson’s inspiration to join the military came from his grandfather who was in the Navy during World War II and fought in the Pacific theater aboard the USS Drew. Johnson looked to his grandpa as a hero, motivated by his courage and willingness to do the right thing.
“He didn’t talk about it a whole lot, but I knew that about him and that was something that I just absolutely respected,” Johnson said. “So, it’s sometimes hard to even admit I’m a veteran. I know on paper I am but it’s hard to look back, I think, at the concept of standing on the shoulders of giants. That’s how I feel about all the veterans that came before me that that paved this way and it’s humbling to consider being numbered among them.”
While serving in the military, Johnson was part of the field artillery unit. Serving in a capacity of what the service would define as counter battery. Primarily done inside a base while receiving indirect fire, the unit would evaluate whether it was appropriate to fire back. Johnson’s role was facilitating conversation and contact with the people who made the last call on the decision to fire back and do so.
Aside from the work he accomplished within the confines of his unit, Johnson was also boots-on-the-ground during one of the most important historical moments for the citizens of Iraq.
“Toward the end, they had the constitutional referendum in Iraq,” Johnson said. “I think it was about six weeks where we would go out and make contact in different, more remote areas throughout northern Iraq. On the day of the constitutional referendum, we were able to be out, watching polling sites. They had strict travel movements to prevent any sort of attacks or things like that.”
Johnson continued, “Some of the iconic things that come from that was the famous blue finger. Where they would go in and they would dip their finger in ink and then they would vote by using their finger to mark it. It was this huge symbol of pride for people. They’d walk around and instead of the ‘I voted’ sticker they had a blue fingertip and it was really, really amazing to see that because I’ve taken that that for granted for so long. You had people that had never had the opportunity to vote in their life coming out in droves and exercising that and that was definitely a unique experience.”
The return from service and back to civilian life and normality can at times be a hardship for many veterans that have experienced personal loss or tribulations in the face of war. Thankfully for Johnson, the transition was fairly seamless, the veteran experience helping him prepare for the Pocatello police force.
“I thought about that and it’s been something I’d actually wanted to do for a while,” Johnson said. “I remember looking back the timing wasn’t exactly what I had planned out, but it seemed to fit so I did that. Being a veteran and coming over, my perspective was I approached it very much in a military mindset when I first showed up for training. I kind of kept my head low, kept my mouth shut like it was taught in the military when you first show up. Wait until you find your spot. Being a veteran, that was kind of a big thing there. That was something that internally wasn’t necessarily asked of me but (personally) wanted myself. To feel like when I finally gained that acceptance and earned it that I would get there.”
“I’ve had experiences where I if I’m interacting with a veteran, in my role as a police officer, that helps bridge some gaps sometimes, it helps. I used to carry my dog tags on me and there was a veteran that I remembered years ago…we were checking on him and he was he was struggling like some do unfortunately and he had a hard time talking to anybody. I remember he wouldn’t let us in to come check on and make sure he was okay. I remember taking my dog tags off and holding them through the door. That kind of built that trust, let us get in there and we were able to kind of guide him towards some help.”
That unspoken bond of brotherhood goes deep for any veteran, the simple knowledge that another person knows what you’ve been through and understands the layers of what veterans have collectively gone through. The cost of those trials can be monumental, with Johnson personally knowing a close friend from the time over in Iraq that lost that internal and personal battle from the hardships experienced overseas. The lessons learned can be harrowing and deeply affectual.
“Sometimes people are smiling on the outside, right, and it’s hiding stuff that’s going on in the inside,” Johnson said. “So, checking up on each other and knowing the statistics on veterans that I do, makes me ever even more aware of that.”
Humility seems to be a word that was brought up frequently when Johnson discussed his time in Iraq and the years after his return. Johnson reflecting on the honor and difficulty it is to be counted among many other veterans that came before that served with bravery.
“It’s tough,” Johnson said. “People will thank me a lot when they know I’m a veteran. I get a lot of thanks and a lot of things like that. Honestly, it’s still hard to accept in a way. I appreciate it like nothing else. Sometimes, (for) veterans, we don’t always know what to say. But the people that are thanking us, usually they’re the people who we did it for.”
In parting, Johnson mused on a quote by Thomas Payne regarding times of war.
“I prefer peace,” he said. “But if trouble must come, let it come in my time, so that my children can live in peace.”
Source: Idaho State Journal