As students at Little River Junior/Senior High School begin making plans for Christmas break, school principal Dawn Johnson, will be making plans of her own, albeit of a different kind.


As students at Little River Junior/Senior High School begin making plans for Christmas break, school principal Dawn Johnson, will be making plans of her own, albeit of a different kind.
This fall, Johnson learned she was being deployed to Iraq. She wasn’t joining her Kansas City-based Army Reserves unit, but instead had been selected to become part of a unit out of New Jersey that was scheduled to serve in Iraq starting in January.
Now the Army Major is in the midst of preparing herself, her staff and her students for a 400-day deployment. It’s not a trip Johnson said she was planning on making but one she said she will get through, like all of her previous deployments.
“I’d rather not go if I had my druthers,” she said. “But the community has been very supportive and everyone is handling things just fine.”
Johnson enrolled in the Army in 1984 during her senior year of high school. Knowing her parents would not be able to help her pay for her college, Johnson looked to the military as a means for paying for school and seeing the world.
Johnson served active duty in the army for three years and was stationed in Germany following training. She returned to the states and, following release from active duty, attended college. In 1993, she received her English degree. It was after school that Johnson said she realized she missed her time with the military and enrolled with the U.S. Army Reserves. The reserves required one weekend a month and two weeks a year of her time but left her free to pursue a career in education.
Johnson landed her first job and taught in Geneseo for five years, leaving for her first deployment as a reservist in 1996. She served in the Bosnian War for nine months, again stationed out of Germany. In 1997, Johnson attended officer training school for finance and in 1999, she returned to civilian life and began teaching in Nickerson. In 2002, Johnson was again called up to serve in Cuba and in 2003, she was stationed for a year at Fort Riley.
Johnson moved to Little River in 2005 and completing her service at the base, teaching for one year and then taking over as principal in 2006.
Johnson said it was while checking her military e-mail that she learned she had been selected to serve in Iraq. The New Jersey united needed a finance officer and her name was selected from a national database of qualified applicants.
In November, Johnson attended a 20-day training camp with her new unit. The time away from the office gave her staff and district Superintendent Dr. Milt Dougherty a chance to learn how life can and will need to work without Johnson at the helm. And it gave Johnson an opportunity to meet the people she would be serving beside for the next year.
During her deployment, Little River Junior/Senior High School will undergo its five-year accreditation process. Johnson said she’s not worried about the outcome and trusts everything will go as planned.
She broke the news of her deployment to the students during an all-school assembly. The kids, Johnson said, were quiet.
“Kids are resilient - they will move on from this,” she said, noting that many parents commented on the situation.
Most of the kids at the school Johnson said already knew she was a member of the U.S. Army and several had even seen her in her fatigues.
Dougherty said he knew there was a chance Johnson would be called up for duty and said that didn’t, in any way, affect his decision to hire her. Plans have not been finalized as to how the district will fill Johnson’s seat but Dougherty said school will continue as usual.
“We have worked well as an administrative team and the staff knows things will be taken care of,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s duties will allow her to stay mainly on a secured U.S. base. She plans to blog about her experience to help the kids get a glimpse into military life.
President Barack Obama has set a deadline of Jan. 31, 2011, to have all U.S. troops out of Iraq and as long as he sticks to his plan, Johnson said she plans to be back at school for the 2011 spring semester. It’s not the most ideal situation, Johnson said, but it’s one she and her staff will make the most of.
“I have the best people,” Johnson said. “I know things will get taken care of.”