In a nation at war, it is easy to view people in the Armed Forces through the lens of our choice: they are heroes, they are victims, they behave like the actors we see in movies and TV shows. It is only when we know them as individuals – a cousin, a neighbor, a fellow student – that we stop stereotyping and start understanding them as real people. Lt. Col. Jeff Johnson is one of those people. Like his fellow Opus College of Business alumni, he is striving for excellence in a rapidly changing work environment – only his work environment is the Minnesota Army and Air National Guard.
Johnson joined the National Guard a few days after his 17th birthday. Throughout his 28-year career, he has been assigned to positions of increasing responsibility approximately every three years – a typical career route for a fulltime officer with the National Guard. His most recent position is head inspector general. He performs noncriminal investigations, from soldier evaluations to allegations of misuse of government property; conducts inspections, looking for potential problems, determining the root cause and assisting in the development of policies and procedures to fix the system; and provides assistance for myriad issues, such as pay problems and family crises while a soldier is deployed.
“Last year,” Johnson said, “three different families experienced house fires while a family member was deployed.” His office met with the Red Cross and insurancecompanies to assist the families and helped the affected troops return home.
Johnson enjoys his ever-changing job, despite the difficulty of giving up what he enjoys doing for something new. Among his many responsibilities have been teaching Army ROTC at the University of Minnesota, serving as a Baldridge Quality Examiner, leading training exercises outside of Minnesota, serving in Iraq, and acting as a liaison with Minnesota employers.
“At first, I’m not excited about being moved to a new job,” Johnson confessed, “but I always find that I love it.”
Johnson knew he would pursue a master’s degree. “It’s expected that you will have one by the time you are a major, and the Army pays for it.” The question was: which one? He had a bachelor’s degree in business, and he didn’t want a master’s degree along the same lines. He liked the NbC program’s emphasis on communication and its “big picture” approach. The degree’s value has gone beyond just helping him personally on the job to helping him win recognition from Minnesota employers.
For three years, Johnson prepared Minnesota nominations for the Department of Defense’s Freedom Awards, given to employers for their support of employees in theNational Guard or Reserves. During each of those years, a Minnesota employer won one of the 12 awards. Johnson credits the writing skills he honed during the MBC program for his ability to create attention-getting nominations.
While change is the norm for Johnson, the rate of change has increased since September 11th. “It’s constant,” he said.
Despite facing situations that no one anticipated, Minnesota’s National Guard is responding well. “On 9/11 I got called back to Military Support to work at the StateOperations Center. We were planning how to put 200 troops at the airport. No one had done it before, and it wasn’t even a mission we had remotely planned. Within aweek the troops were trained and standing guard at the airport.”
While he was initially slated to retire this year, Johnson chose to defer his retirement when he accepted his current position. He may retire at the end of his currentcommitment, or he may work another year or two beyond that – predictions more than 12 months out are difficult to make during a time of war. Whenever he retires, he hopes to work in operations management for a Minnesota company.
It should be an easy move for a master of change.