Justin Johnson knew from the time he was a sophomore in high school that he wanted to be an officer in the Navy.
So when the time came for him to begin college, he found the Navy ROTC program at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Happy to hear that the program accepted all areas of study, he pursued a major in healthcare while signing on with the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC).
Johnson chose to major in community health based on his interest in exercise, nutrition, and a desire to improve the declining health of our society embedded in modern day lifestyles and approaches to healthcare based upon treatment rather than prevention. He graduated in December 2004 and received a commission in the United States Navy (USN) as a surface warfare officer.
“The best way to explain what the career path of a surface warfare officer is would be that if I stayed on active duty, the ultimate goal and sought after position is as a commanding officer of a warship, which most will achieve within 15-20 years,” Johnson said.
His first ship was a Frigate (FFG-32, USS JOHN L HALL) based in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and then Mayport, Florida. He completed one deployment on the Hall called Counter-Narcotics Trafficking (CNT) Operations where he and his fellow officers searched for people smuggling drugs in the Caribbean Sea and the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
His second ship was an LHD (LHD-1, USS WASP) on which he had the opportunity to provide humanitarian support to victims of Hurricane Felix in Nicaragua in September 2007. The following month it was the first ship to deploy the V-22 Osprey (a military, tilt rotor aircraft) by carrying VMM-263’s ten MV-22B Ospreys to Iraq to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
While serving, Johnson found that his studies were right where he needed to be.
“As my time in the Navy was coming to an end and my interest in pursuing a civilian career and life was growing, I was in search of opportunities to refresh and grow my knowledge in a healthcare field. I knew that I would still want to focus on improving health through a more holistic and preventive approach, and I found nursing to be more along those lines than medicine,” Johnson said.
Johnson found Mennonite College of Nursing (MCN) to be a great fit for a second bachelor’s degree that would give him plenty of options for avenues to pursue in the future.
“After reading about MCN’s program, reviews and comments from other students and alumni, the Nursing Simulation Lab, and their NCLEX success rate, it made my decision quite simple,” Johnson said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but now that I have become part of the MCN family, I realize that it’s so much more than what I had previously learned about the program and school. From the deans and professors, to the clinical instructors and lab assistants, and lastly to my fellow students, the sense of community and family is more than I could have ever imagined.
“I’m proud to call myself an MCN student and can’t imagine it any other way,” he said.
He began in the Accelerated B.S.N. program in May 2014, one of 19 students in this second-degree, 15-month program. As a member of the Navy Reserves he knew deployment was always a possibility. During this first 12-week summer semester he took the 18 nursing credits. Then on Thursday, August 7, after his last semester final, he got a call informing him of his deployment scheduled for October.
“Justin’s B.S.N. education is interrupted but not over!” said Assistant Dean for the Undergraduate Programs Dianne Clemens. “MCN administration has assured Justin there is a ‘seat’ saved for him whenever his tour is completed.”
Johnson is currently a lieutenant with four and a half years of active duty and nine years of total commissioned service. His unit operates to support the Navy’s partnerships with European navies, specifically assisting with coordinating port visits for U.S. warships and training between U.S. and European navies. He was recently selected for promotion to lieutenant commander, likely effective next year during his upcoming deployment. He currently isn’t sure where that will be but it is likely to be somewhere overseas.
After his service Johnson looks forward to graduating from Illinois State University.
“I know there are many opportunities available to the B.S.N. prepared nurse,” Johnson said. “While I currently am interested in working in the ICU, I am looking forward to exposure to different areas within my remaining schooling as well possibly a nurse residency program to further my exposure and help in selection of the right fit for my interests and skills.”
As far as his future with the Navy goes, he is strongly considering applying to transfer into Navy Reserve nursing toward the end of his deployment. He plans to resume his active reserve role (one weekend/month, two weeks/year) upon graduating from Illinois State and hopes to complete a full career in the Navy Reserves, with at least 20 total years of service.
Justin would encourage other students to serve in the military while attending college.
“The military can give great experiences and be an excellent career enhancer,” he said. “I have traveled to many places, worked with people from all walks of life, and developed skills that will prove to be extremely helpful in my civilian career. It can definitely be time consuming when trying to complete an education as well, but that being said, many people choose to work while attending school so I always describe the Navy as my part-time job. There are many options available from scholarships, to tuition assistance, and also GI bills.
“The military is always looking for good people, certainly licensed nurses and nurses in training. I would highly recommend that people speak with recruiters to find out all their options if they are interested,” he said.
He advises students that the added stress and workload can definitely be a factor.
“Dependent upon one’s position in their Reserve or Guard unit, it can require quite a lot of time outside of those advertised weekends,” he said. “I try my best to manage my time and also exercise, eat healthy, and try to sleep well in order to combat the extra stressors.”