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Beale instructor gives back life changing mentorship to young Airmen

An official photo of Staff Sgt. Johnson.

Staff Sgt. Justin Johnson, 9th Force Support Squadron first term Airmen course instructor, official photo on Beale Air Force Base, California, Nov. 27, 2019. (U.S. Air Force Photo)

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

In the U.S. Air Force, personal and professional development is something that many Airmen strive for. To obtain this self-improvement, some Airmen require mentorship.

Staff Sgt. Justin Johnson takes what he learned from a mentor years ago and passes that knowledge to Airmen at Recce Town.

Johnson, 9th Force Support Squadron first term Airmen course NCOIC, is regarded by his peers to be a highly motivated and reliable individual. 
Johnson was not born with this motivation to help others. Originally from Dallas, Texas, he didn’t see himself as someone who would join the military.

“I was a punk skater kid, always getting in trouble, just being a hooligan,” said Johnson. “I liked to break the rules and just be a pain in my parent’s butt.”

Around the time Johnson turned 18 he moved to Phoenix, Arizona, to try to make a living on his own. He did so for about a year, but began to look for avenues to achieve more. 

“I didn’t want to go to college. I was a C maybe D student at best,” said Johnson. “I was really sick of working part time jobs.”

Johnson eventually arrived at the decision to join the military. With prior family service in the Air Force and his father’s encouragement, he decided to try for the Air Force.

“I didn’t think I would get in,” said Johnson. “I took the test, barely scooted it and went open mechanical.”

After four years of service as an A-10 crew chief, Johnson attended a General Radio Operator License course. This was the first time since high school he had attempted anything academic.

“It was the first actual ‘school thing’ I had done,” said Johnson. “I really only did it because all of my friends were doing it.”

Disregarding his aversion to all things academic, Johnson pressed with the course and completed it. He did not know it at the time but he would gain more skills than what was taught in the classroom.

“Right before we left the course the instructor said, ‘Hey, if anyone wants to stay behind I also help people with finances.’ At the time I didn’t think I needed help with finances,” said Johnson. 

Johnson decided to take the instructor up on his offer. He was married just months before the course and wanted to be able to set up a secure future for his family.

“I called my wife and the instructor selflessly gave us three hours of his time breaking down our finances,” said Johnson. “Everything that he taught us was totally different from what I had learned. He showed me his bank account. It totally opened my mind because he was a crew chief, little punk kid, like me, and for him to be a literal millionaire that blew my mind.”

After completing this course Johnson received orders to go to Korea. He spent a year there and studied finance as much as he could, preparing to come back to the United States with everything he would need to secure his financial situation.

Some of the things he did to prepare were starting an online store, selling scooters and getting involved with the stock market and real estate. 

That singular encounter changed Johnson’s life. Now, he does exactly what his mentor did for him. After class Johnson will invite Airmen attending FTAC to learn about finances during off-duty time.

“I actually care about people,” said Johnson. “I just assumed I was going to be a crew chief for 20 years. But those three hours that my mentor gave to me changed the rest of my life. Now I hope that I can do the same thing for others.”

Sergeant Johnson’s story of mentorship and paying it forward to young Airmen, or anyone that needs it is a prime example of how influential a few hours of time can be.