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NEWS | Feb. 4, 2021

Chaplain “coming home” to South Carolina after 20 years of military service

By Col. Meritt Phillips Army Reserve Medical Command

“Lt. Col. Randal Johnson has dedicated more than two decades of selfless service to his nation,” said Maj. Gen. Jonathan Woodson, Commander of Army Reserve Medical Command. “We are grateful for the sacrifices his wife Lisa, and children, Hillary, Kayla, and Christa have endured to support his service.”

A native of Greensboro, North Carolina, Johnson earned a Bachelor of Science in Sport Management from Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, before pursuing a career in ministry. He earned a Master of Ministry from Southern Wesleyan University in South Carolina, and was ordained by the Wesleyan Church in 1998.

Johnson’s path to military service came after already serving more than 10 years pastoring Wesleyan churches in North and South Carolina. During that period, he moved his family five times.

Johnson joined the military just short of his 40th birthday.

“I have the right kind of love and pride for my God and my Country. So, it just made good common sense and the right thing to do,” shared Johnson. “People in the military need the Lord as much, or more, than people in the civilian world. My wife and I reasoned the Army offered a way to provide a steady upbringing for my children and a steady income for my family.”

While working on his Master of Divinity degree, Johnson joined the North Carolina Army National Guard as a chaplain candidate. In February 2001, he received a direct commission as a Second Lieutenant.

While serving in the National Guard, Johnson served as a Battalion Chaplain, a National Guard Bureau Readiness Chaplain and deployed with the 630th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion to Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In 2008, Johnson transferred to the Army Reserve and assessed into the Active Guard Reserve program. He served as Brigade Chaplain at Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin, as Staff Chaplain of the 335th Signal Command (Theater), in East Point, Georgia, and as Chief of Soldier and Family Ministry at the U.S. Army Reserve Command Headquarters, Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. His culminating assignment was Deputy Command Chaplain for Army Reserve Medical Command, in Pinellas Park, Florida.

Although military families routinely move together, the Johnsons chose to geographically separate to afford their children a chance to live in one location. A husband and father of three daughters, Johnson served as a geo-bachelor for thirteen of the past twenty years.

This separation required significant sacrifice and resiliency from his entire family.

“I am thankful for the work ethic he laid before us, and grateful for the stability and a great education,” said the Johnson’s oldest daughter, Hillary. “As a wife and mother now, I know the extreme difficulties that must have been as parents. Mom took on some pretty big roles and did so with great resilience.”

“I am grateful for my father’s service as an American, being a Soldier is a tough job,” explained the Johnson’s middle daughter, Kayla. “Being a chaplain has even further challenges, you have to show empathy for Soldiers and care for their spiritual health, while maintaining your own health.”

“As the youngest daughter, it was hard not having dad at my cross-country meets and proms, but the more important events, he was able to make; like escorting me on homecoming court and walking me down the aisle at my wedding,” shared Christa. “Mom took on a lot when dad joined the military, it was a decision Mom and Dad made together for our good.”

Lisa Johnson, wife of 39 years, shared her pride for her husband’s service.

“We are always proud to share with others about him and what he did for God and Country,” she said. “I remember the stress I experienced as a ‘single parent’ to our three teenage daughters. Though it placed stress on all of us, we grew to be stronger as a result. We learned how to adjust our life styles, making the best of our times together.”
Lisa offered some advice to other military families.

“Always keep lines of communication open and never leave an issue unresolved. Choose your battles, some issues are not worth fighting over. Sometimes, you just have to agree to disagree, and move on. Keep working toward the most peaceful resolution, and above all, love your God and love one another.”

A lifelong learner, Lt. Col. Johnson focused on education during his evenings away from his family, earning a Master of Divinity from Houston Graduate School of Theology in High Point, North Carolina, a Doctorate of Ministry in Christian Counseling from Covington Theological Seminary in Rossville, Georgia and a Master of Science in Human Services from Amridge University in Montgomery, Alabama.

Johnson will now focus his time on reconnecting with family, to include his four grandchildren, from the home they have chosen for their retirement in Longs, South Carolina, near Myrtle Beach.

“Had I stayed in civilian ministry, I would be forced to work well into my 70’s and 80’s, with a small legacy to leave my family and friends. With God’s help, the Army Reserve enabled me to retire at the age of 60 and I can now spend precious time with my family. Watching and enjoying them, relaxing with them, and enjoying life at the beach,” he explained.

Less than 1% of the population serves in the U.S. military and only 8% of officers achieve the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

When asked about his thoughts on his career, Johnson responded, “It has never been about me. In today’s military, you must guard your holistic self. Apply yourself wholeheartedly in everything you do and you will be a success. God is with you and He will enable you to accomplish things you never dreamed you could accomplish.”

Johnson’s awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Commendation Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraqi Campaign Medal, Global War On Terrorism Service Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Service Medal, and the Overseas Service Ribbon.

“God has allowed me to meet some amazing people, as well as influence others to be called into ministry, and teaching-coaching-mentoring others in their ministries,” reflected Johnson. “I am very thankful to Him for calling me into the ministry and leading me into military ministry. I am also very thankful for my wife Lisa’s sacrifice and support. I simply could not have succeeded without her.”