Daniel Johnson was the third son born to a family of four boys in Ely, Minnesota. During his early childhood years in northern MN, Daniel and his brothers spent their days exploring the woods, swimming in the nearby lakes and rivers, climbing the ledge rock hills and developing skills in hunting, fishing and rock climbing. In 1997, when he was ten years old, his family moved to Cottage Grove, Wisconsin. Along with his three brothers, Daniel loved sports and began playing football in sixth grade with the Pee Wee football league. In high school he continued to play football, co-captained the swim team and was a pole-vaulter on the track team. While he was a dedicated athlete, Daniel was also gifted in fine arts; performing in his high school’s dramatic productions and making videos. The summer before his junior year of high school Daniel passionately participated in a teen mission adventure to Europe; visiting 16 countries in six weeks using drama to reach out to people and to express God’s love.
Following his graduation from Monona Grove High School in 2005, Daniel moved to Schiller Park, Illinois to attend Triton College. There he excelled academically in an EMT course, enthusiastically pursuing his dream of becoming a paramedic. In October 2011 Triton College instituted the “Daniel Johnson EMT-B Excellence” Award which is now presented each semester to the student who demonstrates the best academic achievement in the classroom.
Daniel enlisted in the United States Air Force in November 2006 and graduated from basic training in San Antonio, TX in the top 10%, with honors. After earning his Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Crab from the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal (NAVSCOLEOD) training site at Eglin Air Force Base, FL in September 2007, Daniel was stationed in California at Vandenberg’s 30th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal. Daniel quickly became known to his friends and fellow EOD techs for his fun and adventurous spirit, while his tender and compassionate heart was evident to all he met.
Daniel was committed to making a positive difference in the world and even with a full and busy schedule he made time to volunteer as a big brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Santa Maria, CA. An annual golf outing in his name continues to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters in Santa Barbara County, CA.
In July 2008, while stationed at Vandenberg, Daniel met Kristen Harlow, a local Santa Maria woman whose striking beauty caught him off guard. It did not take long before he was smitten and in love. Adeptly, he swept her off her feet. Following a romantic courtship and shortly after returning from Iraq he proposed to Kristen. They were married June 5, 2010.
Soon after meeting Kristen, Daniel was deployed to Iraq for a 7-month tour of duty in 2009. Motivated by his love for rock climbing and his desire to stay in shape, Daniel built an indoor climbing wall which he climbed often, even on occasion while wearing his extremely heavy bomb suit!
In August 2010 Daniel was deployed again; this time to Afghanistan. The following is an excerpt from Vandenberg AFB Profiles in Courage:
On October 3, 2010, Airman Johnson and his team were tasked to investigate an IED attack on an Afghan National Army Soldier in a hostile area of Kandahar known for its aggressive insurgent activity. After collecting vital evidence, the team re-formed and began movement back to the staging area with an ANA escort.
While moving away from the area, two Afghan soldiers left the designated path and initiated a victim operated-IED. The team quickly reacted. Airman Johnson expeditiously retrieved the wounded Afghan soldier who was thrown 30 feet from the blast crater, and courageously provided medical assistance.
Airman Johnson solely tended to the soldier’s life threatening wounds, multiple complex fractures and open lacerations. He then directed the evacuation of the severely wounded soldier to a helicopter landing zone.
Upon the soldier’s medical evacuation, Airman Johnson turned his attention back to completing the investigation of the IED attack. His exceptional efforts that day saved the life of the wounded Afghan soldier. Airman Johnson’s lifesaving efforts strengthened the relations between the Coalition Forces and ANA operating in the area.
Two days later, on October 5, 2010, Airman Johnson was conducting explosive ordnance disposal operations in the area west of Kandahar, Afghanistan when an IED detonated. Airman Johnson was transported to a hospital at Kandahar Air Base, and it was soon thereafter that he was pronounced dead.
Though Daniel’s life was extremely short by our standards; his list of accomplishments is long by any standard. He exhibited an integrity, exuberance and zeal for life rarely seen or experienced. In everything he did, Daniel sought excellence and showed those around him a radical determination to do his best.
Daniel was dedicated to his God and this one fact was evident throughout each adventure he encountered in his life and in every relationship he shared. He left behind his dearly loved wife of four months, his mother and father, his three brothers, his step-dad, three step-sisters, two sisters-in-law, one brother-in-law, his grandma, his many aunts and uncles, many many cousins, nieces and nephews whose numbers continue to increase, and a vast array of friends who will never ever forget him.