Blacks in Government Conference Honors Servicemembers
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2004 Expressions of support for the troops fighting the global war on terror highlighted today's opening here of the Blacks in Government 26th annual conference.
Larry Phillips, president of BIG's Region 11, which serves the metropolitan area surrounding the nation's capital, began the program with a moment of silence for the troops.
Greg Reeves, the organization's national president, added his thanks to the troops. "Many of our members are military members," he said. "It's because of them that we can sit here today. We should always, always support our troops."
Clarence A. Johnson, the Defense Department's principal director of equal opportunity, said DoD and BIG have had a special relationship since the first BIG conference in 1978. Attendance at DoD's forum associated with the conference has grown steadily through the years to a high of 800, he added.
A standing ovation followed his introduction of the opening ceremony's featured speaker, Shoshana Nyree Johnson, who as an Army staff sergeant was held in Iraq as a prisoner of war in 2003. The two Johnsons are not related.
Johnson said she doesn't like talking about herself. "I'm just a regular old soldier who by the grace of God came home," she said.
She comes from a family with a long military history. Born in Panama, she is a second-generation Army veteran and shares both her specialty and her injury with an uncle who served in Vietnam: Both were food service specialists, and both were shot in the ankle.
She began her military career at Fort Carson, Colo., before being assigned to Fort Bliss, Texas. It was there she learned she would be deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On March 23, 2003, the 507th Maintenance Company, 552nd Battalion, 11th Brigade, was ambushed in Nasiriyah, Iraq. During the ambush, Johnson, who was assigned to the company, and five fellow soldiers were taken prisoner. She was rescued April 13, 2003, in Samarra, Iraq.
Johnson said she often is asked if it was all worth it, considering her ordeal.
"I believe freedom is worth all of this and more," Johnson said. She also said that she and so many of the soldiers she served with in Iraq were there for a clear-cut reason. "We understood that freedom wasn't free. We do it for the loved ones left behind."
Johnson said she was willing to give her life to make sure her daughter, Janelle, was safe, just as her father had done for her and her sisters 12 years before during the Persian Gulf War. But while she was prepared to give her life in defense of her country, she said she hopes her experience was not in vain. "I've already spilled my blood for these freedoms. Don't let it go to waste," she said.
Johnson received an honorable discharge from the Army on Dec. 12.
This year's Blacks in Government theme is "Promoting Knowledge, Growth and Flexibility in a Global Government," and the conference runs through Aug. 20.