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A dream that began with playing with toy Army men as a child and continued as the Hyde Park Academy Junior ROTC battalion commander ended this month after more than three decades in the Illinois Army National Guard including a brigade command and a combat tour in Afghanistan.
Col. Nick Johnson, a native of Chicago and resident of Evanston, retired from the Army with more than 32 years of service during a May 14 ceremony at Illinois National Guard headquarters on Camp Lincoln in Springfield. He started as a Simultaneous Membership Program (SMP) cadet with the Illinois Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment while enrolled in the ROTC program at Chicago State University. He was commissioned as an Infantry officer through ROTC in 1992.
He supported military operations and exercises in Panama, Poland, Germany, the Republic of Korea, Afghanistan, Jordan, and Ukraine during his career. Recently, he assisted the Polish military in setting up the Polish Territorial Defense Force, which has many similarities to the National Guard in the United States. In addition, he played a critical role in the Illinois National Guard’s COVID-19 response as the deputy commander of the Illinois National Guard’s Joint Task Force.
Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the Adjutant General of Illinois and Commander of the Illinois National Guard, said Johnson served “incredibly” throughout his career. “He should be very proud of what of what he has given to the Illinois National Guard, the Army, his state, and to his country throughout his life,” Neely said.
The early part of his career was with the 1-178th Infantry, where he held two company commands (C Company and the headquarters company) and the battalion command. “The 178th Infantry is his home,” Neely said.
Johnson is an active member of the 8th Infantry Association, which celebrates and commemorates the history of the Illinois National Guard’s all-African-American Fighting 8th Infantry Regiment. The 8th Infantry Regiment fought in the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. In World War I, it fought as the 370th Infantry Regiment – under French command because of institutional racism in the U.S. Army at that time. The regiment’s valor during the war is celebrated by the Victory Monument at Martin Luther King Drive and 35th Street in Chicago. The 1-178th Infantry holds the lineage to the 8th Infantry Regiment. Several members of the 8th Infantry Association attended Johnson’s retirement ceremony and served with him in the 1-178th Infantry.
After command of the 1-178th Infantry, Johnson went on to serve as commander of the 244th Digital Liaison Detachment and then brigade commander of the 65th Troop Command. He has held multiple staff assignments in logistics and operations from the battalion level to the state headquarters level. He deployed to Afghanistan with the Illinois Army National Guard’s 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team from 2008-2009, where he served as the operations officer and executive officer of the Counter Narcotics Infantry Kandak Embedded Training Team.
Johnson said his career fulfilled a “lifelong dream of service.” He thanked many people in his comments, but singled out Susan King-Wieczorek, the Gold Star Mother of Sgt. Robert Weinger. He discussed how much “Momma Sue’s” friendship has meant to him since March 15, 2009; the day her son, Spc. Norman Cain and Sgt. Christopher Abeyta were killed in Afghanistan when their vehicle was attacked by a roadside bomb. Another Soldier serving under Johnson, Sgt. Lukasz Saczek, was in the vehicle with the three Soldiers on March 15. Sgt. Saczek died from noncombat-related injuries on May 10, 2009.
Johnson also thanked several of the senior NCOs he served with, particularly in the 1-178th Infantry. “I truly stood on their shoulders. I’m glad their shoulders were broad and strong.”
Johnson’s military education ranges from the U.S. Army Infantry Officer Basic and Advance courses to the U.S. Army War College, where he earned a master’s degree in strategic studies. His civilian education includes a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Chicago State University, a master’s degree in counseling from Governors State University and a doctorate in clinical psychology from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology.
As a civilian, Johnson is a clinical psychologist with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at the Naval Station Great Lakes’ Recruit Evaluation Unit. He is the father of an adult daughter, Ashley, and grandfather to Elijah.