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NEWS | Feb. 26, 2024

From Marine to Guard, a Red Dragon sniper’s journey across continents​

By Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

Staff Sgt. Joshua Johnson’s journey into the military began with a casual invitation from a friend to go “hang out” at the local U.S. Marine Corps recruiting station. His friend had just joined the Marine Corps Reserve and, at 18, Johnson didn’t even really know what a Marine was. He’d just graduated high school and said, “I wasn’t really doing anything.” When the recruiter asked if he wanted to blow stuff up, Johnson said yes, and enlisted as a combat engineer.
Over the next several years, Johnson deployed twice as a Marine. First, in 2010, he went to Afghanistan. There, he was attached to an infantry battalion that focused on “clearing and seizing ground to pave a road for the creation of the Kajaki Dam in the Helmand Province.” He enjoyed the experience and said it gave him exposure to what it means to be a “warfighter.”
After that deployment, he was asked by his lieutenant to deploy as part of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force, or MAGTF. Initially, he was slated to mobilize to Uganda, but then, when U.S. government facilities were attacked in Benghazi, Libya, his mission changed. As part of a trained and ready force, he and his fellow Marines deployed to Libya. Their job was security and Johnson was pulled to serve as a spotter on a sniper team.
“I don’t really know why somebody trusted me with that,” Johnson said. “But that got me into the reconnaissance and precision fire aspect.”
Johnson came home from Libya in 2013, toward the end of his contract with the Marine Corps Reserve. He considered a few career changes within the service but ultimately got out of the military. Less than six months later, Johnson was back, this time in the National Guard.
"I realized in a short amount of time that I was just not comfortable being a civilian," he admitted. He’d missed the camaraderie he enjoyed while serving and, determined to continue along the lightly-trodden path of a sniper, Johnson sat down for an interview to join the scout platoon at the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. “I knew I wanted to go to the scout platoon because I wanted to go sniper school after having that exposure to being on the long guns in Libya. The scout platoon was the fast track for that.”
Johnson’s entry into the scout platoon was unique and conditional. “You don’t usually get recruited into the scout platoon, you have to try out for the scout platoon,” he explained. Still, he was admitted on a trial basis, assessed in the summer, and was then made a permanent member of the team.
Before he could go to sniper school, Johnson deployed to Qatar with the Bedford-based Alpha Company, 1-116th. He said a good time and that it provided an opportunity for self-development. “A lot of people took up opportunities to go to school, and I took an EMT class that I thought was pretty cool,” he said.
After returning from Qatar, Johnson, alongside three other Soldiers from his unit, went to sniper school where all four proved successful.
“It was a great time,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t ask for a better time or a better class in sniper school.” 

A few years later, Johnson again deployed, this time to East Africa with Task Force Red Dragon. He was assigned as a sniper team leader on the East Africa Response Force, which was tasked with a broad range of military operations, including crisis response and security augmentation to the Department of State and other U.S. facilities and support for military-assisted departure or non-combatant evacuation operations. In this role, Johnson found himself again supporting the Department of State in a military capacity, much like he’d done in Libya years prior as a Marine. He traveled to multiple countries and helped support Department of State missions in Nairobi, Kenya; Mogadishu, Somalia; and Durban, South Africa.
After returning from Africa, Johnson continued serving as sniper section leader and, within about a month of returning home, started his journey toward becoming a trooper with the Virginia State Police. More recently, he and two other Virginia National Guard snipers competed in HÄYHÄ 2023, a Finnish Sniper Championship, held Aug. 25-27, 2023, near Taipalsaari, Finland. He called it, “an absolutely fantastic experience,” and hopes to compete again and further advance his standings.
Today, Johnson is still serving as the sniper section leader and works full-time as a Virginia State Trooper. Of all the things he’s experienced during his time with the National Guard, sharing his knowledge with others has been a highlight. 
“I’ve had a lot of time teaching people in the National Guard,” he said. “When you’re a scout or you’re a sniper, you’re also teaching PMI, or Preliminary Marksmanship Instruction, to people. I don’t really consider myself to be a teacher, but I do find that I enjoy it.”

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