By Senior Airman Andrea F. Rhode, 115th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 17, 2015
MADISON, Wis. -- His positive character is evident as he speaks. When asked about his feelings on the award he just won, he is humble - showing constant appreciation to his finance team for giving him the tools he needed to succeed. When asked about his family, his eyes light up with joy as he tells stories of how he met his wife and how much fun he has watching their daughter grow. When questioned on his past experiences, he is thankful - thankful he has been given an abundance of opportunities throughout his lifetime, the culmination of which have led him to today's success.
Staff Sgt. Chris Johnson, 115th Fighter Wing accounting liaison, was recently named the 2014 Non-commissioned Officer of the Year for the state of Wisconsin. His outstanding Airman nomination packet was one of dozens reviewed by a panel of five chief master sergeants.
"I am honored," Johnson said. "I know it's an individual award, but it's more about our team than anything. It just shows what we're doing on a regular basis and the impact it's having not only on the base level, but the state level as well. I just happened to be the lucky one to get put up for the award."
Lt. Col. Larry Mara, 115th Comptroller Flight commander, has watched Johnson's accomplishments accumulate over the last couple years.
"Chris Johnson represents what an NCO should be," Mara said. "He embodies the core values, he puts other Airmen first, and promotes organizational esprit de corps. I am proud to have him on my team."
In 2014 alone Johnson had many accomplishments, most of them from his work in finance. For those outside of the finance world, the nomination package submitted for his award included a paper loaded with numbers. To most, it was just a list of numbers - to those in the finance office, they were much more than that.
"Just the mere amount of money showcased on those statistics shows this organization is thriving," Johnson said. "The 115th is moving forward. We're doing a lot of big things here at the base."
In addition to his finance work, Johnson also found himself in a large role with the CARES program, he participated in the Falcon Open, and volunteered with Skills USA, to name a few.
"I just add time to my work day to make sure everything gets done," he said.
His passion toward the CARES program alone was compelling.
"Finances can be such a stress for so many people," Johnson said. "I hate to see people struggling with them, so if there's anything we can do with CARES to get them over that stress - to get them over that hump financially - then we're really happy to be able to do that."
Johnson's journey in the Guard just began a few years ago, but prior to that he served in both the active-duty and reserve components of the Air Force.
After swearing he would never follow in his father's active-duty Air Force footsteps, he enlisted in 2004.
"Once my senior year rolled around and I didn't know what I wanted to do with my future, I decided the military was the best option after-all," Johnson said.
He began his career in satellite school and was stationed at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colorado. After completing his initial enlistment, he was honorably discharged in 2008.
"I got off of active duty and thought the grass was greener on the other side," he said. "I figured I'd go to school full-time and get my degree."
Johnson moved to LaCrosse, Wisconsin where he did not know anyone. It was there where he realized he missed the military.
"I was out for about two and a half years when I decided to come back in," Johnson said. "I missed it. I missed the military life. The whole time I was out I continually thought about getting back in."
Even though his desire to get back in was strong, he does not regret his decision to leave active duty. His decision to get out and move to LaCrosse led him to the most important people in his life.
"That's where I met my wife," he said. "If I hadn't done that who's to say I'd have a family or my daughter right now. I don't regret it one bit."
Johnson got back in, but rather than signing another active-duty contract he enlisted with the Air Force reserves. They did not have a satellite position available, so Johnson cross-trained into finance.
When his wife took a position in Madison, he wanted to find something close to her.
"At the time I didn't know anything about the Guard," Johnson said. "When I called the in-service recruiter they just found me the closest base to where I was living."
Staff Sgt. Chris Williams, 115 FW security forces squadron, knew Johnson from Anytime Fitness, and talked him into the Guard. From there he spoke with Senior Master Sgt. Zachary Brewer, 115 FW recruiter.
"We were already living in the area, so the transition was really easy," he said.
The paperwork was ready to go, Johnson just had to sign it. He has not looked back.
"I like the guard because we're all really close-knit," he said. "I think that's what makes our mission so successful. People enjoy what they are doing and who they are working with, and they genuinely want to be there."
Johnson may have received the 2014 Non-commissioned Officer of the Year Award for one year of his service, but the culmination of his Air Force service provided him with tools he can use the rest of his life, the most important of which he says is positivity.
"If you stay positive and display that to your peers, to your co-workers -- people are going to see that smile on your face and that positive attitude," he said. "They are going to know you can achieve anything you want. That positivity will take you far in your career."