She never swapped her Army fatigues for a grass skirt; nonetheless being stationed in Hawaii was not too difficult an assignment.
Now Ashley Johnson, the new program coordinator in the Veterans Resource Center at Antelope Valley College, smiles when she reflects on her time in the service, from 2002-2006, during the days of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The war itself marked a difficult period in America, but Johnson was stationed at Schofield Barracks on Oahu, which provided a panoramic vista for the Armed Forces.
Naturally there were the sentimental times, like when she visited Pearl Harbor. No American can go to Hawaii and walk away with dry eyes after seeing that memorial.
As an ammunition specialist, Johnson performed a critical task, keeping check of the inventory and ensuring the delivery of ammunition.
When asked what prompted her to enlist, Johnson said, “Shortly after 9/11 I wanted to be a part of the action, not just complaining about what happened, but actually doing something about it.”
Johnson’s oldest child, daughter Abigail, now 14, was born in Hawaii. When Johnson completed her service in 2006 she returned home and accepted a position as a receptionist, but decided to expand her career opportunities and enrolled at the University of Phoenix, in a program designed for working adults, where classes met once a week. She studied business, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management. While still in school she began working in property management, then went to work at Bank of America when they had mortgage servicing.
She married the man who was her high school prom date and her second daughter, Isabella, now 9, was born.
In 2014, she joined the Antelope Valley College staff, working in the Financial Aid office.
“As a veteran myself, I always cared deeply about veterans. So I became the liaison for veterans in Financial Aid.” That position continued for about four years when Johnson became pregnant and learned she was carrying fraternal twins. Babies Olivia and Tyrone, the second, named for his father, are now about 8 months old.
Johnson had heard the previous program coordinator in the Veterans Resource Center gave notice that she was leaving and despite her pregnancy, Johnson applied for the position. She went out on maternity leave this past July.
“The position was vacant for a while. On Aug. 8, I had an interview. I was 34 weeks pregnant. I was having contractions the whole interview.” That night she went to the hospital to stop labor so she could carry her infants full-term.
“On Aug. 16 I was offered the job, and on Aug. 30 the babies were born.” Johnson was officially named the program coordinator on Sept. 1 but remained out on maternity leave until Jan. 28 of this year.
“I hit the ground running.” Now she juggles a full-time career with her duties as a wife and mother of four. Her oldest daughter is a soccer player and her second daughter is a soccer player and gymnast. That means attending games and getting them to practice sessions.
Meanwhile, at the office, the first event she organized was a luncheon honoring female veterans to coincide with Women’s History Month in March.
“After the women’s luncheon, someone emailed me and said it was the largest gathering of female veterans they ever saw in the Antelope Valley,” Johnson said.
Her next event, in early April, was hosting the Los Angeles County Veterans Advisory Commission, attended by eight commissioners from the county’s five districts including a representative from 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office; a representative from Assemblyman Tom Lackey’s office, R-Palmdale, and a representative from Congresswoman Katie Hill’s office, D-Acton. Aside from the officials, about 60 members of the public attended.
Johnson said she as told that was the highest attendance the Advisory Commission ever had at an off-site meeting.
Upcoming events include a Memorial Day barbecue May 22 on campus and a Veterans Graduation Reception in addition to the commencement ceremony.
Johnson said, in addition to providing a safe place for veterans to meet and study, they also receive guidance in other matters. “We connect them with resources. The Palmdale Veterans Center comes here and Mental Health America comes here.” California’s Employment Development Department also reaches out to veterans at the Resource Center to find jobs.
“We have CalVet representatives that come out and (contacts from) Homes4Families,” Johnson said. She made it her commitment to serve veterans because she stands among them.