BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - Since the days of the Women’s Army Corps, women have made leaps and bounds in the building and structure of today’s military like Air Force Capt. Brandy Johnson, C-17 instructor pilot and air mobility liaison for the 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.
“Later in high school I decided to serve my country and I wanted to fly,” said Johnson. “Everybody wanted to know why I chose to fly the C-17 Globemaster instead of fighter planes. My only answer was that C-17s are the best and it has everything in it.”
Johnson, a member of the less than five-percent of women pilots in our military, is here providing air mobility support to the 401st AFSB, but she can contest that the road was not easy to get to where she is now.
“After completion of the joint undergraduate pilot training program, I knew I wanted to fly C-17s,” she said. “I was the only woman in my class and it was the absolute best and worst year of my life. But it was definitely necessary and worth it.”
Many nights went by and Johnson wanted to quit her training. She didn’t want to quit because the course was extremely challenging but because her father had terminal cancer and was very ill during her training program.
Overcome with emotion, Johnson stated that she loves and misses her father and he was her biggest support. Although Johnson was coping with her dads condition she pressed forward in her training program and subsequently graduated.
A bitter sweet graduation, Johnson was blessed to have her father place her wings upon her chest and he succumbed to cancer a mere week later.
“I worked my ass off to stay in that class so my dad could see me get my wings. My dad was my best friend,” she concluded.
Coping with the lost of her father, Johnson pushed forward and continued to pursue her career as an aviator.
“I’m the link between the Air Force and the Army in Afghanistan and we network to provide immediate support to the war fighter,” said Johnson. “My daily scope of work consists of controlled airdrops to combat drop zones and air traffic services to remote runways and undisclosed forward operating bases. As a liaison officer, I focus on training the Army to perform air mobility operations to maintain sustainment operations here in theater by training, advising, and assisting.”
The ambitious 32-year-old from Fallbrook, Calif., currently serving her tenth year of active military service, is presently completing a six month deployment to Afghanistan and she is no stranger to the combat theater.
“This is my seventh deployment and I will be back here in a couple months for another mission as the 385th Air Expeditionary Group, Detachment 2 commander," said Johnson.
“Johnson has the training and leadership experience that most aviators do not have the ability to get,” said Col. Andrew Hird, 385th Air Expeditionary Group commander, and native of Marshall, Mo. “She has the opportunity with ground forces command and joint operations which makes her a valuable asset to our military.”
Although Johnson is an elite asset to our nation’s freedom she also has another side that is just as elite and notable. Since Johnson has been in combat theater, she has started two charity events for soldiers and for Afghan children.
“I started two charity programs, 'Operation Troop Drop' and the other one I haven’t made a name for it yet,” said Johnson with a smile of contentment. “We have dropped tons of care packages to the troops and to the children of Afghanistan and I am very proud of both of these programs.”
The second program Johnson mentioned which remained nameless, airdrops books, crayons, stuffed animals and toys to Afghan children.
Since November 2013, Johnson’s deployment has had its share of ups and downs. She had a few experiences that could have made even the toughest service members falter.
“I nearly chopped my thumb off and had to get it cauterized, I caught pneumonia, and lastly I fractured my own shin bone doing box jumps during a CrossFit session,” said Johnson. “I had a splint on my leg, a splint on my hand and arm and I just sucked it up and drove on like a boss,” she said with a laugh and playful sarcasm.
The perceptibly resilient aviator from "So Cal" loves to travel, spend time at the beach, skydive, CrossFit, eat healthy and cruise the town on her Yamaha R6 sport bike when she is not in harm’s way providing low altitude air drops to the war fighters on the ground. Although Johnson enjoys having fun and being an aviator, her job for a lack of better words, is not always "peaches and cream."
“I was attacked on Forward Operating Base Shank and my aircraft received shrapnel from indirect fire on the flight line,” stated Johnson. “It is a very tough job being an aviator but I volunteered for this and I love what I do.”
Although Johnson is an extremely valuable asset to the combat theater, she is leaving soon to embark on yet another mission.
“First thing I am scheduled to do when I leave here is go to Joint base Charleston, S.C., to complete my aviation currency and proficiency flying for the C-17,” said Johnson. “After I complete that training I am going on temporary duty to brief the director of mobility forces course at Hurlburt Field in Okaloosa, Fla. Upon completion of those missions, I will be back to the 101st Airborne Division to deploy again two-weeks later to Afghanistan again.”
“Capt. Johnson is an outstanding aviator with unlimited capabilities,” said Brig. Gen. Timothy Frye, director of mobility forces for the U.S. Air Force Central Command. “She is a total asset to the Air Force and the Army. She has a deep understanding of air mobility and fixes problems. The bottom line is she is a true professional that takes care of business and it is an honor to have served with her here.”