BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --
He could’ve followed the destructive path of a young man who was raised in an unstable environment like his and ended up in jail or possibly dead.
Growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida was a real test for Senior Master Sgt. Neco Johnson, 2nd Munitions Squadron first sergeant. From family issues and compromised home settings to a heavy presence of drug use, every day brought new challenges his way.
“Many of my siblings and close family members, including my Dad, have spent time behind bars, alongside my friends and neighbors,” Johnson explained. “That was seen as a badge of honor. You spend time in jail and everyone thinks ‘oh he’s cool, don’t mess with him.’”
When he was a teenager, he and his family moved to Augusta, Georgia, where his life took incremental steps toward a better future. His mom and younger siblings ended up living in an old motel room, while he at the age of 16, alongside his older sister, lived in a mobile home.
Johnson was able to overcome these adverse situations because there were people in his life that saw potential in him and specifically dedicated time to help him develop as a leader, mentor and an overall successful person.
Acts as simple as his teacher in the second grade giving him her lunch when he didn’t have any food during a class field trip; or as kind as his aunt opening her home to him and his four siblings when they were taken away from his mother and as generous as his uncle stepping in as the father figure he needed. The idea of joining the military was even introduced to him by strangers.
While working at a car wash outside an Army base, soldiers would consistently encourage him to seek more opportunities because there was more out there for him than his current job.
“Most of them would tell me to go to college, but I had no idea how to even enroll and had no desire to go because it just wasn’t something I was motivated to do,” he said. “But they all saw something in me. One lady, I specifically remember, told me ‘the next time I come here I don’t want to see you. I want to see you doing something with your life.’”
Now today, after almost 21 years in the Air Force, Johnson dedicates his everyday work to look for potential in others and find ways to be a difference in their lives.
“I feel like when you take care of people, they’re going to take care of you,” Johnson said. “You don’t have to shoot for awards or recognition because when you take care of people that light is automatically going to shine on you as well. People work hard for you when you take care of them.”
The first sergeant life was not something he ever saw himself apart of. He was intimidated and never thought he would be a good fit.
“Once I got exposure, I fell in love with the job immediately and that’s when I knew I found my calling you know, my niche,” he exclaimed.
The newfound love that he has for this job is rooted in the fact that he is doing what he loves every day.
“It really fits my personality, it’s not like coming to work to me,” Johnson said with a smile. “I’ve had a lot of other positions, but this one is different. Even when its busy I’m still given the opportunity to help others.”
Johnson’s ability to influence Airmen is not just something he is passionate about. His efforts have proven to be influential to many of the Airmen he has been able to lead.
“He always makes sure we know that he genuinely cares about us, our safety and well-being,” said Airman 1st Class Madison Carley, 2nd MUNS command support staff technician. “He has any and every resource you could want and is always willing to lend a hand to anyone who needs it. He has, unintentionally, put this drive in me that has made me want to be a first sergeant someday.”
Not only has Johnson been able to change the lives of these Airmen and positively impact their career, but he inadvertently has them wanting to help others when they can as well. This rippling effect has proven to be important not only to these Airmen, but also the Air Force.
This is because leaders set a standard for Airmen to follow, said Senior Airman Kassandra Truelove, 2nd MUNS stockpile management crew chief.
“He leads by example and embodies all the things a senior non-commissioned officer should be,” Truelove said. “He cares about you as an individual, he cares about your career, and he cares about your success. I am so lucky to have learned from him and have him as a role model.”
Johnson’s ability to lead and influence others is not confined to the boundaries of Barksdale. He leads a group of more than 45 volunteers who gather once a month to go to the Caddo Juvenile Detention Center in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, and talk to the youth there.
“A lot of them have to go back to environments where there’s high crime, high drug trafficking, their parents are not doing well or struggling with some type of substance abuse,” Johnson explained. “So, we try to give them some tools so when they do go back into the community they can try to be successful and try to show them there’s a different route to go.”
Johnson is just one example of how important it is to have positive influences in life. Despite the environment he went through growing up, a handful of people saw his potential, invested in him and he seized that mentorship and took steps to get to where he is today.
“Remember to always look out for others because you never know how important that is for someone,” Johnson said. “For me, it took people stepping in to influence me in certain situations. The difference those people made in my life is why I am here today. Try every day to be that difference in someone else’s life.”