A mind of his own

By Leo W. Banks

Amir Johnson uses his diverse background as a roadmap to success for himself and others.

Amir Johnson’s life has been a travelogue. As the child of military parents, he was never in one place for more than two years. During his senior year of high school, he attended classes in four different countries—the United States, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and Germany.

Wasn’t that difficult? Disruptive? Stressful?

None of the above.

“I had the opportunity to meet a lot of people and experience different cultures,” says Johnson, who earned his Bachelor of Science in Management at the University of Phoenix.

“I saw and did things growing up that people typically wouldn’t get to do in a lifetime. It wasn’t stressful at all. It was actually exciting.”



When he’s not traveling the world as a language interpreter for The Washington Post, Amir Johnson and his wife, Beatriz, mentor young people through a non-profit they founded, called Reflective Perceptions.

Johnson doesn’t exactly have a sit-around personality. He’s goal-oriented, highly motivated and a bit of a self-admitted perfectionist who puts his heart and soul into a project.

When Phoenix Patriot caught up with the 37-year-old, he had just stepped off a helicopter at Homestead Air Reserve Base, south of Miami. He was working as a translator between dignitaries from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their American military hosts.

New recruit

He speaks fluid Arabic. Johnson studied the language as a student in Germany, throwing himself into the task and ultimately mastering it. He also speaks German.

Johnson was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to parents who were Army through-and-through. They expected their son to follow the same military tradition, but Johnson had always loved the Marines.

When he graduated high school in Germany, where there are no Marine recruiters, he told his folks he was flying to the States to join the Army and they agreed. But he pulled a fast one. As soon as Johnson landed, he made a beeline for the Marine enlistment office.

The recruiter wasn’t exactly sold on the idea of Johnson enlisting. The entrance exam had shown that he’d do well in a clerical job or performing administrative tasks; however, Johnson insisted on being in the infantry or special operations, admitting now that he might’ve seen too many movies.

The recruiter warned that he was making a mistake and recommended that he sleep on it. Yet in the morning, when the recruiter picked him up, Johnson hadn’t budged. Infantry it would be. He was 18.


“That’s a good word to describe me,” says Johnson. “But it was something I really wanted and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Physically and mentally, I did a lot of growing up in the Marine Corps.”

For the next four years, he added to his list of visited countries as he served in the Mediterranean, the Arctic Circle, Columbia and Chile. Johnson was honorably discharged from the Marines in 1997, and then spent two-and-a-half years as a police officer in Brunswick, Georgia, before feeling the itch to return to the military.



“Don’t ever say you’re not able to do something. Set a realistic goal and, when you don’t think you can go on anymore, push yourself beyond that.”

National Guard airman

He enlisted again—this time in the Michigan Air National Guard—and spent four more years on active duty, when his unit was deployed after 9/11. During his time in the Middle East, Johnson describes being aboard a blacked-out C-130 transport plane as it descended from the night sky over the region, nose down at a sharp angle, to land in a poppy field. As loadmaster, he was responsible for picking up and dropping off troops and equipment, sometimes under enemy fire.

“It was dangerous and exciting and I’m proud of it,” he says. “It was my way of responding to the people who attacked us on 9/11.”

The student

Prior to his honorable discharge in March 2010, Johnson turned his attention to his educational goals. The workload gave him pause. He knew several military people who were taking classes at University of Phoenix, some about to graduate, and he wondered how they managed to do it all.

He credits Enrollment Representative Brian Turchiano with helping him find his way during a challenging time. Johnson’s third child, Ayden, was born in November 2009, three months after he began taking classes. He also has two daughters, Kadalhia, 14, and Amanda, 11, but Johnson took the leap and completed his degree program in just 20 months, graduating in April 2011.

The graduate

Now he works as an interpreter for The Washington Post, which keeps him extremely busy traveling from post to post. In addition to his day job, Johnson and his wife, Beatriz, are throwing themselves into starting a nonprofit organization called Reflective Perceptions—a program that mentors young people, which will be fully operational by early 2012. The couple, who lives in South Carolina, plan to serve at-risk youths by teaching them the skills they will need to become well-functioning adults. The two believe everyone has the resources within themselves to be self-sufficient.

“Don’t ever say you’re not able to do something,” Johnson says. “Set a realistic goal and, when you don’t think you can go on anymore, push yourself beyond that. My Marine recruiter taught me that, so did my drill instructor and my parents. I want young people to learn that, too.” ★

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