CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait –
For many service members and veterans, the military is often characterized as a “brotherhood” in which strong bonds are built through shared experiences.
For Sgt. 1st Class Robert Johnson, G32 Aviation noncommissioned officer-in-charge, Task Force Spartan, and Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Johnson, Air Mission Request noncommissioned officer-in-charge, Task Force Spartan, their “brotherhood” began long before either of them joined the military.
The Johnsons are brothers, who grew up together in Woodbridge, Virginia. Each enlisted in the Virginia Army National Guard right out of high school.
Robert, who is 2-years his brother’s senior, chose to enlist because he knew that college was not the path he wanted to take. “I had no plans after high school. I wasn’t going to college and was looking for something to do. A recruiter called me and offered me 20 grand to go to basic training and do two weeks a year and one weekend a month.”
For Aaron, the timing was similar, but his reasons for enlisting were a bit different. It was his brother who recommended he join. “I was 17 and having a baby. He [Robert] was like ‘Hey, there’s a recruiter’s office there, they’re giving out bonuses.’ So, I joined. I was planning to go to college, but I was bagging groceries and needed to support my kid. So, I enlisted 5 days after my 18th birthday.”
“My mom was pretty supportive, of course nervous when I first joined. I think even more nervous when the second one joined. And then probably had a heart attack when our third brother joined,” said Robert.
Though they do not have a history of military service in their family, that has not stopped them, or the third Johnson brother, who is a staff sergeant in the Virginia Army National Guard, from setting the bar high for themselves in their military careers.
For many siblings, there is a natural urge towards competitiveness or trying to set yourself apart from one-another by doing different things. However, this is not true for the Johnsons, who have both followed very similar paths throughout their time in uniform.
Both enlisted into the communications field, both are graduates of the U.S. Army Airborne and Air Assault schools, and both have worked in Army aviation as full-time soldiers on Title 10 orders with the Army National Guard.
“It’s more about seeing each other succeed and less about competing,” said Robert.
Previously, both have served in the same unit, but in different sections. Currently, both Aaron and Robert are deployed with the 29th Infantry Division as Task Force Spartan, working together in the G32 Aviation section. “[We] …never deployed together before, minus our handoff in Afghanistan. This is the first time we have actually had a direct working relationship,” said Robert.
Both Robert and Aaron have deployed previously. In 2015, Robert’s unit took over for Aaron’s unit. “In Afghanistan, his unit replaced my unit. We flew a couple flights together in Afghanistan, which was cool, during the two-week transition,” said Aaron.
“Our transition was on D-Day, which was really cool. It was his last flight and my first flight. We got to see each other, but it was very short-lived,” said Robert.
Neither brother had any strong reservations about being deployed together. “It’s been pretty cool. We think very similarly, but have very different approaches to our work,” said Aaron.
“We play off each other really well. We’ve been in the same realms for a lot of things,” said Robert.
“Working in the same cell, my first concern was it was going to be difficult. Having to give direction to your little brother. But, it’s actually turned out really well,” said Robert.
The two have been able to work together as peers, not just as brothers. “We sit down and pass things and ideas back and forth. Even when things get heated, we’re able to step outside and have a discussion. Most brothers don’t really do that well, they just fight it out,” said Robert.