Mandy Johnson is a U.S. Air Force and Army Veteran. Stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, Osan Air Base, South Korea, and Hurlburt Field, Florida, she dedicated twenty years of combined service (1998-2018) in the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army. Now retired from the 11th wing at Bolling Air Force Base, located in Washington, D.C., Johnson was involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom and served her country as an intel targeting specialist, sexual assault counselor, and conflict resolution mediator. She also received numerous honors, which included the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Joint Service Commendation Medal.
Born in Carbondale, Pennsylvania, to Peggy Opeil, Johnson attended Mid Valley Elementary Center and Mid Valley Secondary Center in Throop, Pennsylvania. She is a sister to Johnny, Susie, Jaime, Kami, Daisy, and Fawn Opeil, and she worked at a hot wings shop in Dickinson City, Pennsylvania, before enlisting in the Air Force in 1998 following her uncle's and grandfather's service.
In her early days of service, Johnson completed basic training in 1998 while stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where she received specialized training in human relations. Following basic training, she received additional training in electronics at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, before attending technical school at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, in 1999. Johnson later tested into an Intel job at Whiteman Air Force Base, "home of the B-2's," in Knob Noster, Missouri, where she developed a skill for "looking at images and building maps."
When reflecting on those training days, Johnson emphasized how "close everyone was" and expressed gratitude for her bosses who "genuinely tried to help." She also discussed the challenges of adapting to a new environment, overcoming homesickness, and finding solace in her husband, Daniel Johnson, whom she met shortly after arriving at Whiteman Air Force Base and married in 2001 in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
In 2003, Johnson set out for Guam where she helped to establish and manage a "first forward deployed B-2 targeting shop" alongside one fellow airman and an officer. She returned to Guam in the following years before deploying to Osan Air Base in South Korea in 2006.
When recalling the latter experience, Johnson detailed how her service in South Korea was the "first time [she] felt comfortable enough to tour a foreign country." She also shared her eye-opening experience learning about South Korean culture and touched on the hardships of being "separated from [her] husband for fifteen months while he retrained" in Kyrgyzstan.
In 2007, Johnson reunited with her husband while stationed at Hurlburt Air Force Base near Okaloosa County, Florida. Shortly after, while working in the Air Force Special Operations School, she discovered she was pregnant with Andrew Johnson, whom she gave birth to on March 12, 2008. Six months later, Johnson deployed to Balad, Iraq, as a "one-for-one replacement for an army soldier."
Reflecting on her service in Guam, South Korea, and Iraq, Johnson highlighted the scorching temperatures she frequently encountered and discussed the challenges of working in a "fast-paced environment." She also mentioned how she enjoyed working with the Army and elaborated on the hardship of missing her son's first-year milestones and the challenge of adapting to motherhood when she returned from Iraq.
"My husband and his family in Wilkes took care of my son through all his first-year milestones while I was away," Johnson shared. "When I came back, my baby was totally different...I had to adapt to a child I really didn't know," she continued.
After Andrew was diagnosed with autism when he was four, Johnson found balancing his needs with her military service extremely challenging. As a result, when she returned to Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., she brought Andrew along so he "could have all the therapies he needed" while she carried out her military service.
Johnson's service officially ended in February 2018 while stationed at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. She returned to Wilkesboro, North Carolina, later that year and was warmly received by her husband, family, and friends. Johnson later attended Wilkes Community College, receiving her "general associate degree," and joined the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, or VFW, for short. Today, she is serving as the organization's adjutant and hopes to pursue a career in speech pathology.
Sharing her final thoughts about her military experience, Johnson recalled how her military service impacted her life, stating, "It was hard to be a wife, mother, and soldier." She continued by highlighting her increased drive to help fellow veterans, emphasizing that nothing is impossible if you give it your all, and she concluded her reflection by encouraging others to be fearless when trying new things. "Leap, then swim," Johnson advised.