“When you turn 18, what do you do? You go see an R-rated movie. You buy a pack of cigarettes. The first thing I did was join the army,” December graduate Harrison Johnson said while reflecting on his past and journey to the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Johnson is an international business major and an E4 army specialist in the United States Army Reserve who’s desire to join the military can be traced back to his childhood.
“As a kid, all of my friends, cousins and I said we were going to join the military,” Johnson said. “Others grew up and decided to do something else, but I never stopped wanting to join the military. I never considered not doing it.”
Though he talked about joining the military while growing up, his parents were shocked when he showed them his enlistment contract. Johnson said enlisting was his way to pay for college because his parents always told him that since they paid for his high school tuition, he had to pay for college.
It didn’t take Johnson’s parents long to come to terms with his enlistment, however. He shipped out to basic combat training in June of 2012, and they were very supportive.
Combat training was an adjustment for Johnson. When he first arrived at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, he wasn’t able to sleep for three days.
“You come in 9 o’clock on Saturday very enthusiastic, and then you spend the next few days staying up reading boring books and getting yelled at,” Johnson said. “I was like, ‘Oh man, what did I do?’”
Johnson said he never considered quitting because he was already feeling pain, and he might as well gain something for it.
By the end of training, Johnson gained a new perspective because basic training was the most stressful time of his life. Being able to make it through made him feel accomplished. He realized that he had the ability to reach his other goals, such as higher education.
When it was time for Johnson to go to college, he knew UNO would be a top choice because of its reputation for breaking stereotypes of who a typical college student should be.
“UNO has a different culture than most colleges,” Johnson said. “Here at UNO, in my first Russian class, I had an 86-year-old dentist. All of the perceptions I had about college were nonexistent.”
Johnson’s involvement in the student veteran’s organization has shaped his experience at UNO by allowing him to contribute to campus culture. Johnson said the veteran community at UNO is one of the most supportive in the country. It has allowed him to be surrounded by people who have gone through similar experiences.
Samantha Willis, the assistant veteran’s coordinator for wellness and a former member of the international guard, echoed Johnson’s praise of the program.
“We make it very clear to our students that if they ever have any issues or concerns with anything here on campus, we have established relationships with all of the other offices here,” Willis said. “We are their ally. We will be here to stand up for them should any kind of discrimination happen.”
After graduation Johnson would like to work for the military full-time. In his future career, he wants to pursue a job as an analyst.
Johnson credits the opportunities available at UNO for helping him to decide on a career path. He also encourages students to make the most of their education.
“UNO is what you make of it,” Johnson said. “If you want to sit in the background, no one is going to force you to do anything. If you do want to get involved in the community, you have every opportunity. I have taken advantage of the opportunities, and I think [that] has helped me assess what I want to do when I get older.”