Feature   Know Your Military

Face of Defense: Recruiting the Next Generation

Oct. 1, 2020

If you're not sure what you want to do in life, the right military recruiter can change your world. For Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Absalom Johnson, recruiters are exactly why he decided to enlist. 

A Marine wearing a polo-style shirt with a Marine Corps recruiting station logo on it stands for a photo.
Richey Recruiter
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Absalom Johnson, a canvassing recruiter assigned to Recruiting Substation Port Richey, Recruiting Station Tampa, helps people join the Marine Corps in Port Richey, Fla., Aug. 21, 2020. RS Tampa is responsible for finding and preparing young men and women for the rigors of recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. Calvin Shamoon
VIRIN: 200818-M-GP312-038Q

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Absalom Johnson
Job Title: Recruiter
Hometown: Hercules, California
Stationed: Recruiting Substation Port Richey, Florida
Unit: Recruiting Station Tampa

Now, he's following in their footsteps. Johnson works as a recruiter in Florida, helping others find their path in life.

So, how did he reach this point, and why does he do it? Here, Johnson explains his own path to success and the motivation he gets from the recruits he helps.

Finding Community

As a child, Johnson moved often. When he graduated in 2010 from Hercules High School in Hercules, California, he was finally able to plant roots and become part of a community. He became a bank teller while also coaching high school basketball. He was happy, but he yearned for something more.

Johnson watched as his siblings joined the Army, Navy and Air Force. He, too, thought the military might fulfill his calling, but the more he spoke to recruiters from familiar branches, the more discouraged he became. Then he met a Marine recruiter.

A Marine stands at attention on a ship's deck, facing two Marine Corps officers and with a crowd of fellow Marines behind him.
At Attention
Marine Corps Sgt. Absalom Johnson stands at attention before being promoted aboard the joint high speed vessel USNS Millinocket in Kolonia, Micronesia, July 1, 2015. Absalom had served more than six years in the Marine Corps.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. James Gulliver
VIRIN: 150630-M-GO800-020Y

"When I saw the Marine recruiter, I thought to myself, 'I want to be him,'" Johnson said. "The Marines looked hard. I wanted a challenge, but not just any challenge — I wanted to be the best, so I had to become the best."

Johnson decided to enlist. Now, 10 years later, he finds himself filling the same shoes as the person who helped him find his path — a Marine Corps recruiter.

Transformation

Johnson enlisted and became a field wireman — someone who maintains the networks that provide pathways for phone and digital data messages. Johnson didn't have any prior cybersecurity or software knowledge, but the Marine Corps provided him with the skills and knowledge he needed to succeed. He eventually moved up to become a network chief.

A Marine in  a black polo-style recruiting shirt stands and smiles for a photo with his arms crossed.
Staff Sgt. Absalom Johnson
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Absalom Johnson, a canvassing recruiter, helps young men and women join the Marine Corps in Port Richey, Fla., Aug. 21, 2020.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. Calvin Shamoon
VIRIN: 200818-M-GP312-034Y

After successful tours at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Camp Pendleton in California, Johnson decided to volunteer for recruiting duty. In November 2019, he received orders to report to Recruiting Substation Port Richey, Florida.

"I love the fact I can make an influential impact on people's lives and one day have the honor of serving with them," the Marine said.

A Marine hits a punching bag.
Martial Moves
Marine Corps Sgt. Absalom Johnson throws a punch while Cpl. Hamza Khan holds the bag during a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program course aboard the joint high speed vessel USNS Millinocket in Honiara, Solomon Islands, July 27, 2015.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. James Gulliver
VIRIN: 150727-M-GO800-007Y

Influencing Change

In the past year, Johnson has helped a lot of men and women realize their potential. One of those recruits was John Vo, a first-generation Vietnamese American whom Johnson met while calling recent graduates of Gulf High School in Port Richey. Vo, whose father is a successful investment banker and mother is the owner of several nail salons, wondered what he could do to become successful, too. He had enrolled at Hernando Community College to study mass media, but he was discontent.

It's a humbling experience that I can make a huge impact on an individual to become a part of a team that only a few people can become a part of."
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Absalom Johnson, recruiter

When Vo went to the recruiting office for his first interview, his palms were sweaty. Johnson said Vo lacked confidence, but Vo realized it was a weakness he had to overcome — and that realization crystalized into a desire for a new challenge. Through a series of conversations with Johnson, Vo realized he was seeking a greater sense of purpose, so he enlisted.

Today, Vo is on the verge of completing the Crucible, the 54-hour culminating event of Marine Corps recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.

"It's a humbling experience that I can make a huge impact on an individual to become a part of a team that only a few people can become a part of," Johnson said. "I'm even more proud to be Marine because I can help individuals like him."

Helping Others Achieve

Two men in T-shirts look at the camera with their arms crossed.
Portrait Mode
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Absalom Johnson, left, poses with Tyree Smallwood, one of his many recruits.
Photo By: Marine Corps video still
VIRIN: 200820-M-ZZ999-087

There's also Tyree Smallwood, a Missouri native who grew up watching his father and stepmother have successful Marine Corps careers. After realizing that college wasn't for him and getting the run-around from Navy recruiters, Smallwood decided in November 2019 to give the Marine Corps a try. However, he had to lose weight to be eligible. 

Up to that time, Smallwood had lost 60 pounds, dropping from 320 to 260 pounds. But it wasn't enough to enlist. He had to lose 40 more pounds, which he did with the assistance of Johnson and physical training sessions the recruiter held.

02:20

"While I was working out during the PTs … I had a bunch of people pushing me from the back, telling me to keep running, keep moving, keep going," Smallwood said. "Not many people get that feeling of having somebody push you and encourage you." 
 
Smallwood eventually met his goal and was accepted for enlistment. On Aug. 24, 2020, he shipped off to Parris Island, where he's training to earn the title of U.S. Marine.

A man standing behind a tire on the ground watches several others around him do pushups.
Training Session
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Absalom Johnson (standing) works with recruits during a physical training session at Recruiting Substation Port Richey, Fla.
Photo By: Marine Corps video still
VIRIN: 200820-M-ZZ999-086

The Few, The Proud

Johnson is one of 65 canvassing recruiters at Recruiting Station Tampa, which is responsible for finding quality young men and women and preparing them for transformative training at Parris Island.

"The Marines isn't for everyone," Johnson said. "If it was, we wouldn't be the Marines. Challenge is what separates us from the rest."

Adapted from an article by Marine Corps Sgt. Jorge Rosales, 6th Marine Corps District.