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Home : News : News
NEWS | May 20, 2021

Reserve chief doing big things at Air Force Recruiting Service

By Master Sgt. Chance Babin Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs

When Chief Master Sgt. Michael Johnson got the call to report to Headquarters Air Force Recruiting Service as part of the early push toward Total Force recruiting, he faced many of the typical questions a Reserve Airmen faces when working with the active duty.

“Originally, a lot of the active-duty Airmen thought I was a traditional Reservist and didn’t know about AGR (Active Guard Reserve) status,” said Johnson, AFRS chief of strategic marketing. “Once we were all educated and started to learn the different requirements, Mr. Barry Dickey (AFRS director of strategic marketing), who has many years of leadership experience, made sure we were all equally important. We were able to compare best practices from the Reserve and active duty as we laid out the Total Force strategic plan.”

Once Johnson, the first Reserve chief master sergeant to be the chief of strategic marketing at AFRS, and the other Reserve members who followed him to the headquarters, got settled in at AFRS, the milestones started to pile up for the Total Force Recruiting Enterprise.

Among the Total Force recruiting accomplishments are all three components, the regular Air Force, Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard, which are all under one marketing support agreement. Total Force commercials are now airing on television. The Total Force Call and Refinement Center is up and running and the Total Force Strategic National Marketing four-year plan is established and the annual one-year execution plan for the fiscal year is done.

But there is one milestone that Johnson said he is most pleased with.

“I’m most proud of the Total Force Marketing Management tool,” Johnson said. “It allows Total Force recruiters the opportunity to share any Air Force component branding opportunities without duplicating costs across the components. And this helps us spend taxpayer dollars more efficiently and allows our spending to go further as a force.”

Johnson has brought leadership and knowledge to the team.

“Just having a chief in the Marketing Division has paid huge dividends in terms of leadership and day-to-day operations,” Dickey said. “Having an AFRC chief has helped us better integrate the division and provided a better understanding of the AFRC mission, and ultimately ensured that we’ll provide the best marketing service for AFRC and the Total Force. Chief Johnson has a wealth of experience and all the leadership traits of someone who has reached the rank of Chief Master Sergeant, but his expertise really is in marketing. Having run that program for AFRC, he provides both strategic guidance for our overall marketing strategy and tactical insight into marketing techniques.” 

For Johnson, marketing got into his bloodstream early in his recruiting career and has become a passion. He was assigned as a marketing NCO at Air Force Reserve Command Recruiting Service in 2009.

“I was selected to work a new position as the events manager, in charge of planning schedules and activations for the field,” Johnson said. “I was tasked to set up activation scripts, coordinate logistics and set-ups at airshows and to take on, what at the time, was a new program call Tour for the Troops Stateside. This program was designed to do concerts to target prior service Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines. The concept was to get artists to increase morale at the stateside locations and plant a seed of continued service in the Air Force Reserve.”

Entertainers such as Kid Rock, Kelly Clarkston, Jay Leno, Carlos Mencia, Ludacris and Andy Grammer were just a few of the shows Johnson helped facilitate while on the road.

“I just couldn’t believe that this was a job from within recruiting,” he said. “I felt like this is something I really want to dig deeper in and learn.”

At this point in his career, Johnson realized marketing was something he understood and could use in his new job. And although he was set to go back to the field, he also knew he wanted to come back as the chief of marketing at AFRC RS one day.

“I took these lessons learned to my next assignment as flight chief at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, where our flight went from the bottom to the top for the three years I served in south Florida,” he said. “Essentially, I took all of these lessons learned in my past job to organically create my own opportunities for both wing and community involvement.”

While at Homestead, he came up with a concept to activate in the fan zone at college football games, as well as other sporting events, and have Air Force Reserve leadership participate. One of the first events was a coin toss at the Florida State vs. Miami football game in conjunction with a flyover at the game, which got his recruiters free recruiting space.

“During this period, as a combined flight we had achieved as a team over 150% of mission as a team and were a huge part of retention and morale for the leadership at the time led by Brig. Gen. Christian Funk (his former Homestead commander),” Johnson said. “For my service at Homestead, I was recognized by my peers as the Command Flight Chief of the Year in 2015.”

While he was away from AFRC headquarters from 2012 to 2018, Johnson volunteered to help with events off duty to further enhance his marketing skills. He would use personal time and travel to work various sporting events such as national soccer friendlies stateside, Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournaments, sporting events at the University of Miami and a new model of a youth world cup with Univision. He also volunteered to work college bowl games with various vendors.

“I sought advice from my now long-time mentor who saw the potential for me and took me under his wings,” he said. “Having his immense expertise gave me a huge advantage as a flight chief. As I worked more events, I kept asking questions. Then I sought mentorship with civilian experts on how to better learn my craft. I just continued to soak in new ideas and ways to engage the American public.”

As he was about to leave Homestead Air Reserve Base, Johnson had hopes of taking his marketing knowledge back to where he first got a taste for it at AFRC RS headquarters.

“After leaving Homestead I had hoped to come back to Robins Air Force Base to be the chief of advertising, however, I was passed over,” Johnson said. “I look back now and realize this was a blessing. I was just more driven, more prepared and educated for when I would later get the opportunity. It validated to the field my body of work as I pushed the national strategic plan when I finally got the opportunity and touched on how I used marketing knowledge while still at a wing,”

Although he was disappointed at not getting his dream job, Johnson was prepared to set the standard as he moved to his next assignment in the National Capital Region at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.

“We set records three years in a row for accessions and won the coveted Heavy Lifter Award (top large wing) for the command,” he said. “During this time, we had four members of our team move up to leadership positions and win many national awards for the command.”

After serving in the nation’s capital, Johnson finally got the call he was waiting for and he was returning to AFRC RS to lead the marketing program.

“I already had prepared mentally for years on how things would go if I got the opportunity,” he said. “I took what I knew that had worked for me in the past and worked directly with operations and analysis to balance advertisement and marketing based on needs to the mission and unique mission sets that needed more impressions or leads.”

After his stint at AFRC, Johnson made his move to AFRS to begin working in the Total Force recruiting realm – something he is accustomed to at home since his wife is active duty.

Through the years, as the Johnsons took new assignments, with no join-spouse available for married active-duty Reservist and regular Air Force Airmen, things were often tricky when looking for their next career move.

“We have a term I learned early on: leave no doubt,” he said. “It was important that with every assignment the command knew we would excel and we could work out an assignment between my wife and me,” Johnson said. “I was willing to take on any hard-to-fill assignment just so we could stay together as a family. We had our overlaps but were able to work out the assignments to keep us together.”

While assignments have been a challenge for the Johnson family, they are together now in San Antonio. His wife, Lt. Col. Emilia Johnson, is the assignment program development chief at the Air Force Personnel Center at JBSA-Randolph.

“Currently we are both working Total Force integration projects and we have always been able to have a mutual dinner conversation about work on both sides,” Johnson said. “We’ve been lucky to have great support from both sides of our family covering various TDYs and deployments. Our kids have been resilient. It’s an honor to serve and continue to serve for the Total Force.”

 Johnson was recently selected for the Command Chief Select Board for AFRC and selected to the E-9 Key Personnel Listing.

As Total Force recruiting is rolling forward and milestones are being accomplished, Dickey appreciates his chief.

“For me, it’s been great to have someone to round out the Marketing Division leadership team and to have a trusted teammate who has the best interest of the Total Force Air Force at heart,” Dickey said. “I think we learn from each other every day — from marketing to dealing with personal matters, to just life in general.”

With the influx of Reserve and Guard personnel joining the AFRS Marketing Division, Dickey sees big things ahead for his team. 

“That’s what makes this job special,” he said. “I don’t think we’d be able to complete our task of Total Force marketing integration without the outstanding work of the chief and the other members of the Reserve and Guard,” Dickey said. “We’re poised to do some great things for the Air Force.”