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Spirit of Hope Award nominee
First Lt. Mitchell Johnson (left), along with another honor guard member, performs a “burial at sea” funeral detail for a United States Air Force veteran. Johnson is the AFMC nominee for the Spirit of Hope Award because of his commitment and dedication as a volunteer with the Hanscom Patriot Honor Guard and within the local community. (Courtesy photo)
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Hanscom lieutenant is Spirit of Hope Award nominee

Posted 3/14/2012   Updated 3/14/2012 Email story   Print story


by Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Foster
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

3/14/2012 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- First Lt. Mitchell Johnson, Fixed Base Weather Observation System deputy program manager here, is nominated for the Spirit of Hope Award, named in honor of late entertainer Bob Hope and presented for outstanding service to the United States. The award recognizes a military member, civilian or organization that epitomizes the values of Hope: duty, honor, courage, loyalty, commitment, integrity and selfless dedication.

Johnson was nominated for his selfless commitment and dedication as a volunteer with the Hanscom Patriot Honor Guard and in the local community. He is the Air Force Materiel Command nominee and will compete next against nominees from the other major commands.

The Spirit of Hope Award is unlike other volunteering honors because it recognizes the volunteers that contribute toward enhancing the quality of life of past and present servicemembers and their families.

"Many people volunteer, but for me it's about giving back to those that are serving, or have served," Johnson said. "My grandfather was in the Navy, so volunteering with those who came before us is something extra special. I can give back to those that did so much for us."

The volunteering journey started for Johnson as soon as he arrived at Hanscom. The call went out for honor guard volunteers and since his plan was to join once he was settled into his new job, he jumped at the opportunity.

"Coming from the acquisition world where we work at desks a lot, supporting the warfighters, it was a way for me to go out and do the physical act of giving back," he said. "I wanted to give back more than the day-to-day commitments."

According to, six recipients will receive the Spirit of Hope Award. They will represent the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Military members, as well as civilian employees and private citizens, are eligible for the award that highlights the selfless contribution of time, talent or resources that benefit members of the United States Armed Forces.

Over the course of his time in the Patriot Honor Guard, Johnson traveled more than 2,000 miles to perform funeral honors and ceremonial services at funerals, parades, retirements and changes of command. He was also recognized for his leadership, integrity and commitment to service when he was named 2010 Base Honor Guard Officer of the Year.

Being recognized for efforts at the AFMC level is impressive in itself, but Johnson remains humble about the nomination.

"I feel privileged to have received the nomination, especially due to the caliber of an award named in the honor of a man like Bob Hope," he said. "It's been a rewarding and touching experience getting the recognition for something that so many people also do."

Johnson explained the honor guard could be emotionally tough at times and he had to learn his role when it came to funerals. Although he trained himself to not get attached and to concentrate on providing honors to the fallen servicemember, the families still want to show how much the honor guard's service means to them.

"There are the times when you're out there, presenting the flag to the next of kin. It's in those moments when they grab your hand and genuinely want to thank you for what you've done. You're there representing the life of the deceased and a lot of times the military was a major part of the life of the spouse and the children, as well as the servicemember," he said. "A lot of prior service members will also make an effort to tell us a story or thank us for what we do. We get that a lot from the civilian population, but in that environment, it's extra sincere and you can see it in their eyes. It makes it very rewarding."

Johnson also spent many off-duty hours mentoring and training a local high school's JROTC drill team. He said the team is a great way for the young members to distinguish themselves and who knows where it may lead in the future.

"It was fun and took me back to my college days. Even though my skills are drastically diminished, I was able to show them different maneuvers and spins," he said. "It felt good to give them something from my past."

Whether Johnson gets the opportunity to be the Air Force winner of the Spirit of Hope Award or not, he says even being nominated at the Center level and at AFMC feels incredible.

"I believe in shining where you're planted and giving 100 percent in every job," he said. "It's been an eye-opening opportunity and I'm happy to give back somewhere other than just my home community."

The Spirit of Hope Award will be presented at a joint award ceremony in the fall.

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