‘I’ll be home for Christmas, Mom’
December 31, 2003
Christmas came right on schedule for the Johnson family, although the biggest present didn’t have a chance of fitting under the tree.
Northern Douglas County resident Louise Johnson had only one wish for Christmas: That her son made it home safely.
U.S. Army Communications Specialist James Johnson, 20, got the call that he was leaving Baghdad about 15 hours before his plane departed.
“It’s an emotional experience, being told you are going to go home,” Johnson said. “You look forward to it every day and then when everything is finally set, you are just happy.”
Johnson, who joined the army after graduating from Douglas High School in 2001, had been overseas for 10 and a half months
He passed along word just six days before Christmas that he would be headed home, but he was still unsure when.
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“He e-mailed me and said that there was a possibility he would be home for Christmas,” Louise said. “I had about an eight-hour notice of when he would be coming in.”
After a long flight back across the ocean, Johnson set foot at home at 1:30 a.m. Christmas day.
“My feet were floating for a while,” Louise said. “There was that back and forth Christmas Eve. I knew he was traveling but I didn’t know where he was.
“I literally had the cell phone glued to my hip waiting for him to call.”
Going home, however, brought still one more adventure for James.
“He called me up and said, ‘Mom, where do I live?'” Louise said. “We moved to a new house while he was overseas and he knew our P.O. Box, but he just didn’t know his physical address.”
James said his time spent in Iraq was a valuable life experience.
“You just have this experience to remember when you go back to your unit,” he said. “You kind of have to get close (to the unit).
“They are the only lifeline that you have. You look out for them and they look out for you — It’s a family.”
Johnson’s duties consisted mainly of maintaining and operating communication lines.
“Usually it was just watching green lights and red lights,” he said. “Green lights mean you are good and red lights mean you are bad.”
He said that even on the doorstep of conflict, it was important to settle into a normal routine.
“You get used to the gunfire and the mortar rounds at night,” he said. “I never really considered myself in harm’s way.
“The routine keeps you sane. You have a time you wake up, find a normal timeline to live in.”
He laughed at the difference in temperature extremes from being there, where temperatures often rise well into the 100s and being back home, where the overnight lows dropped to 8 degrees last week.
“You just prayed that you had A/C,” he said. “This is cold for me (back home). I’m an extreme hot kind of guy. You get over it, just go one day at a time.”
Johnson said that working in communications allowed him to see how the support from home lifted the spirits of his fellow soldiers.
“I just want to thank everybody for the support,” he said. “It really helps at a time like this, especially when there are soldiers still over there.
“They want to know that America is still behind them. They want to know that they are doing a good job. They just like to hear from everyone.”
He said he plans on spending the remainder of his leave visiting with his mom, his sister Heather, friends and some extended family. He ships out to his base in Arizona on Jan. 13.
“It was just a smaller group of us that came home (on Christmas),” he said, adding that the rest of his unit would soon be coming home.
– Joey Crandall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (775) 782-5121, ext. 212.