Randy Lewis Johnson
September 27, 2007
Killed in Baghdad, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.
|'Gung-Ho' Soldier Left Tough Streets of D.C. for the Army
By Clarence Williams
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Friday, October 5, 2007
After surviving some of the roughest streets the District has to offer, Randy L. Johnson Jr. chose the military as his route to a better life. For more than a dozen years, the strategy worked.
Growing up amid neighborhood warfare in Southeast and Northeast Washington, Johnson was never pulled astray by the street life. And although his relatives said that as a teenager he preferred watching karate movies to hanging out on the streets, they had no doubt: He was tough. That attribute, along with a desire to get ahead, led him to join the Army and eventually to serve in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Sergeant First Class Johnson, 34, was on his third tour in Iraq, commanding a Bradley Fighting Vehicle unit in Bghdad, when a roadside bomb detonated near his vehicle September 27, 2007, killing him.
"You don't find too many [teens] in the city who aren't streetwise. And Randy wasn't a streetwise guy," his brother, Vernon Johnson, said last night. "He was one of those cats who would never let that distract what he was. He was a regular guy."
Johnson grew up in a tight-knit family with nine siblings and stepsiblings. He and Vernon, who is about a year younger, spent their teenage years at the Carver Terrace complex in Northeast with their grandmother, who doted on Johnson.
"He was super-spoiled. Randy was her pet. Randy went everywhere she went. When she jumped, he jumped," said his father, Randy Johnson Sr.
Johnson worked summer jobs as a lifeguard at the swimming pool at the Barry Farm housing complex in Southeast and played wide receiver on the football team at Spingarn High School, from which he graduated. He wasn't very tall or fast, but he had good hands and remained determined.
"He was a tough-nosed little guy. He had the heart of a 7-footer," Vernon Johnson said, adding that his brother was a "math whiz" who used to do homework for his little brother.
Last year, Johnson was training troops in Washington state when a desire to be with his unit sent him back to his cavalry regiment in Vilseck, Germany, and then to Iraq, although his relatives said he didn't think that U.S. troops should be there. They said that makes his death even harder to take.
"I don't understand why he was back over there," his father said. "He got that gung-ho attitude about his fellow soldiers, and he wanted to be with them."
Still, his father said, the military life made his son happy and made the family proud of the man he had become. The Army offered him travels around the world and led him to marry his German wife, Claudia.
The couple have two boys, Devin, 5, and Aaron, 1, who has not met his family in the United States.
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