Michael Johnson: The Transition from Boat to State

Video posted April 27, 2015 in News by Megan Swiatkowski


STATE COLLEGE, Pa – “It was a lot of running, a lot of learning to take orders, and a lot of learning how to fold things … because apparently there’s a proper way to fold a T-shirt.”

Michael Johnson enlisted in the Navy straight out of high school in 2005. The decision was an easy one for Johnson.

At the time, both Michael and his sister were supposed to attend college, but his family only had the funds for one.

“I determined that she was the smarter, more successful one, so I chose to enlist.”

A few weeks after graduation, Johnson was shipped off to Chicago. He got in “tip-top” boot camp shape and learned the valuable training information he would need for his two deployments.

Johnson’s first deployment he described as a “Med Cruise”. He visited areas like the west side of Africa, the Mediterranean, the Black Sea. One of his favorite places he visited was Istanbul.

“I was reading Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love at the time, and that takes place in Istanbul. Getting to see the places that the book talks about was really cool!”

However during Johnson’s second deployment, things weren’t so easy. Right before Christmas, Russia deployed an aircraft for the first time in over a decade. Johnson’s ship was the closest, so his boat was set to steam up to go and try to find it.

“Instead of spending Christmas in the Canary Islands, we spent it following a Russian aircraft carrier around the north Atlantic.”

Finding the Russians wouldn’t have been so bad I f the ship had time to dock and find more food.

“For about a week straight, we were eating nothing but white rice, kidney beans, and peperoni mixed together three meals a day.”

Christmas holds a special place in Johnson’s heart, and luckily this was the only Christmas he missed with his family. But it was a Christmas he vividly remembers none-the-less.

“It just wasn’t as fun opening Christmas presents on the boat.”

Johnson’s ship also docked off shore of Senegal. Walking through that country was also a major culture shock to Johnson.

“Just the poverty level was absolutely glaring, plus everyone could tell that we weren’t from there.”

Even with all the countries Johnson has visited around the world, perhaps his favorite place is now where he currently resides in State College.

The decision was easy for him. He first visited Dear Old State during a trip to get his friend’s license renewed. Penn State happened to be playing Wisconsin in football that day, so Johnson and his friend went to the game. By the end of the fourth quarter, the win for Penn State turned into a newfound love for Johnson.

He applied immediately through Penn State’s Veteran’s Program and was amazed at how easy the process was.

“The website was easy to use and it spelled out exactly what was expected of me.”

Johnson was overjoyed when he got his acceptance letter a few weeks later… though he still had three more months in the Navy and the summer before it was time for college.

Many veterans describe the process of getting out of the military as difficult. For Johnson though, he says it was good for him.

“I knew I was coming to Penn State about five months before I got out, so there wasn’t any real being scared or anything like that.”

His transition from boat life to State life over the past four years was fairly easy.  Today Johnson works in the Office of Veterans Programs at Penn State, the same office that helped him get to Penn State.

“I think it’s really important to still be involved in that especially trying to help people get their benefits and understand their benefits.”

His is also involved with FRAT, the veteran’s fraternity on campus. He was president last year, and voted best president in the IFC. His fraternity does a lot with the Dear Hero Program and the Wounded Warriors Project... Two things that hit very close to home in that fraternity.

“I remember getting packages when I was deployed and its one of the best days. You get candy, you get magazines, its great. Anything I can do to help somebody brighten his or her day on deployment… I’m happy to do it. ”

Johnson says Penn State is good for him because it has taught him how to relax and enjoy life again.

“I’ve gained an appreciation for getting the work done and having a good time.”

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