Special Olympics volunteer pays it forward

  • Published
  • By Susan Griggs
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
The Air Force's contributions during his newborn daughter's medical crisis 10 years ago made Staff Sgt. Dennis Johns determined to "pay it forward" during his military career.

Now he has an amazing opportunity to do just that - last week he learned that he had been accepted for the Air Force Physician Assistant Commissioning Program.

When Johns was stationed at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, his second child was born with Down syndrome and lung problems. 

"Andersen didn't have planes permanently assigned, nor was there a medevac team positioned to provide the immediate airlift care she needed," he remembered.  "It was a critical moment and not one person hesitated or questioned the extreme measures that were required to save my little girl."

The Air Force mobilized a medevac team and aircrew from Kadena Air Base, Japan, to fly through and around a typhoon in the Pacific Ocean to reach baby Vivian. 

"In the dark and rainy hours of that late night on Guam, civil engineering troops worked quickly to restore power to runway lights that had suddenly gone dark so the aircrew would be able to leave before they broke crew rest rules," Johns recalled.  "The lights sparked to life with just minutes to spare. 

"In the air, an expert medical team worked tirelessly through the night to provide critical care during a flight that demanded the utmost skill from the pilots," he continued.  "The same pilots who had already flown through troubled weather to reach us now had to fly back through the storm, changing altitude many times in order to provide the optimal conditions for my daughter's survival."

"The Air Force went to tremendous lengths to save one little baby girl," Johns stressed. 

His decision to apply for the physician assistant commissioning program was inspired by the medics who helped his daughter 10 years ago.

"The men and women who worked to save my little girl had a profound impact on me," he pointed out.  "They had no vested interest in my family or who I was.  Yet, they cared for the job they had and did everything in their power to go above and beyond the call of duty." 

"Vivian is a beautiful, spunky girl today and Sergeant Johns is a great father to his four children," said Special Olympics project officer Capt. Joshua Tate,  Johns' flight commander in the 334th Training Squadron. "He truly exemplified Air Force ideals and standards and any shop would be proud to have him working for them. It's my honor to have him in my flight and to rub shoulders with him during Special Olympics."