Ind. EMS chief returns to duty after tour in Iraq

Penn Township EMS Chief Ron Johnson was deployed to Iraq with the Indiana National Guard for a year, serving as a flight paramedic on an Army medical helicopter


Howard Dukes
South Bend Tribune, Ind.

OSCEOLA, Ind. — What does someone who was recently involved in service in a war zone think about Veterans Day?

For Ron Johnson, Veterans Day is a time to think about the contributions made by his family members and other American service men and women who served the country in times of war and peace.

"I look at is as a way to take time to reflect on the people who served before me," said Johnson, who returned to his duties as EMS chief of the Penn Township Fire Department the day before Veterans Day after spending a year in Iraq with the Indiana National Guard. "Looking back," he said, "at the guys from Desert Storm, Vietnam and World War II and taking time to understand what they did and what they went through and the sacrifices they made to make this country what it is."

Johnson served as a flight paramedic on an Army medical helicopter in Iraq. He left for his tour of duty in that country in October 2019. Johnson's year-long tour of duty kept him away from his wife Becky, who he met during his first deployment to Iraq in 2008, and their three children, ages 8, 6 and 3. Johnson said that he also thought about the military spouses who remain home when their husbands and wives are deployed.

"She is definitely the rock of our family, especially this time around," he said. "I was gone for a little over a year and she was home with three kids during a pandemic doing virtual schooling."

Last week's holiday also reminds Johnson of the public support that veterans and active duty troops receive.

"It's comforting and heart-warming to see the local population really take that day and recognize all of the (military) branches," he said. " Northern Indiana is a very pro-military region to live in and when I'm out and about in uniform people will come up and thank me."

Johnson comes from a family that has a history of military service. His grandparents served in World War II and other family members were involved in every major conflict. His time to serve came in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists attacks. Johnson was a part of a generation of men and women who joined the military after Sept. 11. Before those attacks, the graduate of Westview High School in Topeka, Ind. had plans on becoming a history teacher.

He'd technically joined the military earlier, as soon as he was able to enlist in the Army National Guard, meaning he was 17 years and one month old when he volunteered in January of 2003.

"I initially thought I would join the infantry, serve a couple of years and then get out," Johnson recalled. However, his parents had other ideas.

"They said absolutely not. They wanted me to do something that I could do after my military career ended."

The military recruiter gave Johnson options based on his test scores that included becoming a medic. Johnson recalled that he took a first responder class while in high school,

"That was the best of both worlds," he said. "I could be a medic that was attached to a military company and get experience in both combat and medical.

"That got the ball started down the medical path."

Johnson has been in the National Guard for 17 years and has a total of eight years of active duty. He's been deployed three times to Iraq or Kuwait. He served as a medic with an infantry unit and then trained to become a flight medic.

Johnson said that his role as a medic on an Army helicopter has many similarities to his work as an EMS paramedic.

"We get a call much like we do in a civilian fire department that we have a wounded soldier at this location," he said.

The helicopter flies to the location to get the wounded soldier and fly that person to the hospital. Johnson said that sometimes the helicopter has to fly into a combat situation where firefights are still taking place or the crew can fly into an area where no combat is taking place to transport sick or wounded troops to the hospital.

The medical helicopters are like flying hospitals that have everything from blood to medications and ventilators.

"I just thoroughly enjoy helping people, and I know that might sound cliche, but I like being the person who if someone needs something I can help them," Johnson said.

That is the case whether Johnson is helping a wounded soldier in Iraq or a crash or heart attack victim here in Michiana.

"From the time I first started getting into medicine, I enjoyed having the ability to be that person someone could look to in time of need and try to turn their worst day into a better day," he said. "And when I was in the military I got so much exposure in pre-hospital medicine that I thought why not give it a shot on the civilian side.

"And I love it."

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(c)2020 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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