Marine named 2013 USO Volunteer of the Year

U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Jeremiah C. Johnson CJTF-HOA Photo U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Jeremiah C. Johnson

A Marine deployed to Combined Joint Task Force — Horn of Africa, was recently selected as the United Service Organizations' 2013 Volunteer of the Year. Gunnery Sgt. Jeremiah C. Johnson, assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11 as the Military Advisor on Weapons and Tactics will be honored Oct. 25, 2013, at the USO Gala in Washington, D.C.

Before being selected, Johnson beat out the competition of 27,000 volunteers in more than 160 locations around the globe.

"He [Johnson] exemplifies the best of the best in our military today — service to country, family, and community with the utmost honor and integrity — and, I'd venture say, a large dose of humility," said Betsy McWhirt, USO Director of Volunteer Services.

"My experience is that the volunteers who deserve the honor the most are usually the ones who think they deserve it the least, because service, no matter what form it takes, is so integral to their character that they don't see it as anything out of their normal routine. … He could be 'receiving' all the services we have to offer at the USO. But instead, he prefers to be part of the service delivery of the USO to his fellow troops, marines, sailors, and airmen in order to lift their spirits. This is true leadership from our perspective, and a key reason he was selected as USO Volunteer of the Year," McWhirt concluded.

According to the 2013 USO Gala web page, "an estimated 1,000 guests will gather to pay special tribute to our men and women in uniform. Guests will include Washington dignitaries, members of Congress, military leadership, members of the USO Board of Governors, USO corporate sponsors and the media."

The USO's mission is to lift the spirits of America's troops and their families, and the organization recognizes that volunteers play a critical role in delivering that mission.

Through his volunteer efforts while serving in Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Johnson kept the United through Reading Military Program available to service members, initiated the camp's "Midnight Munchies" program to provide service members a trouble-free alternative on Saturday nights, barbequed for fellow service members during special events and power outages, initiated and completed multiple USO Center improvement projects and renovations, served as a role model for customer service, and recruited numerous new volunteers to the center.

"The center never became complacent or stagnant," said Johnson of the USO Center in Camp Hansen. Exhibiting the humility that McWhirt attested to, Johnson attributes the center's success to the center manager who encouraged Johnson to make whatever improvements he thought the place needed.

"She continually asked everyone what could be done to make the place better," said Johnson, who also said that she made it her mission to help put the ideas she received into action.

Johnson first took notice of the USO in 2004 when he boarded the flight that carried him to his first combat deployment in Iraq. He was impressed by the USO volunteers who showed their support and made him feel welcomed. That experience inspired Johnson to volunteer in Iraq by maintaining the USO facility, handing out drinks, and mentoring those struggling with the realities of a combat zone.

Since that deployment, Johnson has volunteered with the USO in Okinawa, Hawaii, and Mississippi.

His volunteer efforts are not limited to the USO. Johnson has also volunteered with Toys for Tots for the past 12 years, and prior to his December 1996 enlistment in the Marine Corps, Johnson was a volunteer assistant coach for a youth soccer team.

Johnson said his life goals include being a positive role model for his children, and being the best father, husband, and Marine that he can.

"I believe in leadership by example," Johnson stated. "Anyone can sit down and tell someone what to do, but it takes a different person to lead, coach, and mentor someone while you are executing the task at hand."

This is Johnson's first assignment with the Navy Seabees, which is not a typical assignment for a Marine. He said that his role in NMCB-11 is similar to his traditional role with an infantry unit, "to train Marines on how to employ weapon systems and use them to their maximum capabilities." The biggest challenge, according to Johnson, is incorporating his knowledge and skills into a Seabee mindset which is based on construction.

In regard to his career, Johnson said his ultimate goal is to become a "Marine Corps Gunner," which is the common terminology referring to an Infantry Weapons Officer, a position held by a Chief Warrant Officer.

The Naval Construction Force is a vital component of the U.S. Maritime Strategy. They offer deployable battalions capable of providing contingency construction, disaster preparation and recovery support, humanitarian assistance, and combat operations support.

With its home-port in Gulfport, Miss., NMCB-11 is a Seabee battalion currently deployed to multiple locations in support of U.S. Africa Command, U.S. European Command, U.S. Central Command, and U.S. Pacific Command areas of responsibility.

NMCB-11's Detail HOA is a CJTF-HOA unit whose mission includes stabilizing and strengthening security in East Africa through military-to-military engagements with partner nations.

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