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Wing Helps Homeless Airman Get Back on His Feet

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Bob Jennings

When Staff Sgt. Nic Johnson had to move into his car after getting let go from his job, he realized he was in a bad spot. He had no house, no family to lean on and no job outside his work as a traditional Reservist firefighter with the 442nd Civil Engineer Squadron at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. And to top it all off, his car started to have issues.

“I was at the end of my rope,” Johnson said. “I had nowhere to go, and thought, ‘I need help.’”

So, to combat the depression and anxiety that stemmed from his situation, Johnson turned to Carol Ameline, the 442nd Fighter Wing’s director of psychological health. In addition to helping get him to a better place mentally, the DPH walked Johnson down the hall to speak with the Military and Family Readiness office — formerly Airman and Family Readiness.

“I think he had a lot more going on than he thought,” said Elizabeth Rutherford, the director of M&FR.

Through multiple visits over the course of a few weeks, Rutherford and Tech. Sgt. Austin Sims, a Transition Assistance Program liaison on loan to M&FR from the 442nd Medical Squadron, built a plan to help Johnson get back on his feet.

Sims helped Johnson secure $2,700 in need-based grants to repair his car and even gave him a ride to the mechanic to pick it up.

“He was there to be a good friend when I needed it most,” Johnson said.

The M&FR team could have easily shaken Johnson’s hand at that point and patted themselves on the back for a job well-done. But that’s not the kind of office they run.

“We sat down and talked and built a plan, then chipped away at it,” Rutherford said.

The team helped Johnson build a resume that landed him a full-time job as a firefighter in Peoria, Illinois. They found ways to help him rebuild his credit, which had taken some serious hits recently. And if that weren’t enough, they also helped him find and secure an apartment.

“I knew I was better than where I was,” Johnson said, “So I was willing to get help where I could. It’s hard to keep track of how many people helped me. The unit really helped me. It was the best help I’ve ever had from a unit.”

As Reservists, it can be easy to forget that there’s more to a coworker’s life outside the one weekend a month they’re on base. A brave face on a unit training assembly weekend can mask significant struggles during the month. It’s important to be alert to signs of hardship in fellow Airmen and to help guide them toward the wealth of resources wings have available to help them.

(Jennings is assigned to the 442nd Fighter Wing public affairs office.)