Archive for Thursday, October 4, 2001

War talk

Local military speaker keeping busy with lectures

October 4, 2001

Since Sept. 11, it seems to Mark Johnson that everyone wants to hear his opinion.

The retired special operations officer, a Green Beret and motivational speaker, says people asking him questions about a war against terrorism targeting Afghanistan want someone to put their fears to rest.

"People want to be reassured we'll be OK," Johnson said.

The Eudora resident speaks about leadership and team building at high schools, universities and businesses among other venues. He said recent engagements have been one part him speaking, one part a question and answer session about terrorism and the Middle East. Johnson's 20 years in special operations took him across the Arab world from Pakistan to Somalia.

For the most part, Johnson is able to tell anxious people what they want to hear.

"We've been under attack before," he said, mentioning the Japanese ambush on Pearl Harbor and when the British burned the White House to the ground in 1814.

Terrorists don't expect Americans to fight back, he said.

"That's what I tell people because as history has shown, we always will win out," Johnson said.

In the dining room of his home are evidences of Johnson's military experiences, from photographs to medals to uniform accessories. The Kansas University graduate came to Eudora after retiring last year. Aside from speaking under the name "Mark the Spark," Johnson has also written a book about leadership. One of his speaking engagements included the KU football team.

"Obviously, it hasn't worked," he joked.

For now, though, Johnson is in the business of reassurance. Part of people's anxiety comes from wondering what type and how long of a war the United States will be engaged in. This won't be like the Gulf War, Johnson said.

"Unfortunately, terrorists generally are all over the world," he said. "Do we want to hit five or six different countries?"

Moreover, the enemies aren't as clear as they were in World War II, for instance.

"The enemies are people right here in the Midwest who support these people," he said. "The ideas we have of a John Wayne war are not it."

For the most part, he said, the military aspect will be a small part of the big picture, which includes diplomatic, economic and informational fronts, which could last much longer than any military action.

"By and by, the National Guard and reserve people will supply the whole operation, but will be as safe as the people here in Eudora," he said, adding that much of the work will involve refueling and supplies. "It's not 'Saving Private Ryan.'"

With the motivational speaker enthusiasm in his voice, Johnson said he believes joining the military now wouldn't pose a major risk to most involved. In fact, he said, it could be an adventure for someone who wants to see the world.

"Even if 18-year-old Joey is going off to Germany to hang out underwear, he's in the Army," Johnson said, noting how military service boosts a town's patriotism whether the residents are in the trenches or not.

Although some have criticized the fact that people aren't lining up at the draft offices like many did during World War II, that doesn't bother this veteran.

"There's nothing to line up for now," Johnson said. "I think if it amounted to that, people would line up. Don't underestimate the American spirit."

Because people will probably be disturbed if and when innocent Afghans are harmed, Johnson said the media will play an important role.

"For every one of the deaths to happen in Afghanistan, they need to show pictures of the Trade Center," he said.

Unfortunately, some other Americans may feel differently as fear and prejudice develop against Arab-Americans and Muslims, said Johnson, who fought as allies with Syrians and Egyptians.

"Unfortunately that's a side effect of it," he said. "Those people are going to be typecast."

Johnson also tells people he doesn't foresee much of a ground war, especially because of the terrain. He restates that he expects minimum danger for most in the armed forces, with the exception of those who did work like he did in Somalia.

"They called us the 911 force in Somalia," Johnson said. "My team and my people used to do what had to be don, the last resort."

Johnson doesn't think young men of draft age, who might be a little tense right now, have much to worry about.

"For those going in this, it's a major, major deal, but for the nation as a whole, it's not that big of a thing," he said.

Despite his retirement, Johnson will teach and train others at Fort Leavenworth to do the jobs he did during his service.

"I've been called to do my duty," he said. "Even I've been touched."

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