I was wide open to whomever God would bring as I asked my ABCCM colleagues whom I should interview that epitomized this month’s newsletter theme, “Strengthen”. Veteran Services of the Carolinas (VSC) Director and US Marine, Brandon Wilson looked me dead in the eyes and said one name, Ricky Johnson. When a Marine talks, I listen. Brandon just hired Mr. Johnson to be the newest NC Peer Support Specialist on his Veterans Services of the Carolinas team that directly case manages and ignites the recovery hope of the hundreds of US military veterans personally served by ABCCM.
Brandon introduced us at the perfect first-day-on-the-job for a US Marine veteran like Ricky, ABCCM’s 4th of July Veterans’ Celebration with the Asheville Tourists at McCormick Field. I also met his equally wonderful wife, Julie. As Ricky Johnson walked up and shook my hand, his physical strength was evident. He’s a walking Gold’s Gym poster. However, his greater strength was evident as I watched him engage many veterans shuffling by the ABCCM table at this sold out crowd. Ricky poured out inner compassion, camaraderie, respect, and even humor with men and women who stopped by due to his compelling efforts. During the event, Ricky and I exchanged thanks and contact information for our upcoming interview. He humbly submitted to me a two-part short documentary as context for our interview about his life. After watching his life story I realized why it warranted a two-part video. The externally and internally strong Ricky Johnson we saw on July 4th, 2018 marred a past rife with turmoil is a walking, breathing testimony of God’s power to heal and strengthen.
The two-part series entitled, “The Redemption of Ricky Johnson” project was spearheaded by Cape Girardeau, Missouri’s KFVS 12’s award-winning legal and investigative reporter and news anchor, Kathy Sweeney. I was so moved and amazed by the strength of journalism and compassion of the piece, I emailed Ms. Sweeny who replied, “Thank you Brad, for the kind words about our report. My photographer/editor Bill Allen and I were touched by Ricky’s story, his honesty and the number of friends and strangers he’s impacted…, but after 29 years in this business, sharing a story like his is the reason why Bill and I stay in local news.” I encourage readers to view Kathy Sweeny’s two-part story at KFVS12.com.
Across from each other in a VSC conference room, Ricky Johnson looked forward to seeing his first veteran with whom he would case manage. Ricky reflected on his duties as a professional with lived recovery experience, that in North Carolina we call a Peer Support Specialist. Mr. Johnson further received a new veteran peer support designation though his service as a US Marine. Ricky is one of over 2000 men and women certified as of peer support specialists in North Carolina working in hospitals, outpatient clinics, government task force committees, non-profits, managed care organizations, and more.
“I met Brandon Wilson at a Marine Corp League meeting. He asked me what I was doing. I just moved to the area [was looking for work] when my wife Julie got a job as a counselor…he connected me with peer support training, and later hired me.” Ricky recalled, “I was nineteen-years-old, small son, new marriage, and no direction in life. I’m an extreme guy, always giving 110%,” and did so in the Marines. Ricky Johnson cherishes his service, stating, “Once a Marine always a Marine.” However, his desire to be home and the uneven path of recovery clouded his dream for a military career. His life spiraled, fueled by drug habits, crime, and interpersonal chaos. The key during the well documented self-destruction turning around for the good was Ricky’s stepfather. “My stepfather, he is my father as my real father died…He stood by me, and also held the line with me. He really loved me well back then and now.” Wanting to support but not enable Mr. Johnson, his (step) father and key friends met him at the bottom of his life.
But God was already there, and showed Ricky Johnson a new strength, His truly eternal 110% love that made recovery a daily “tough delight”.
ABCCM Special Events Director