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National Guard building renamed for fallen soldier

By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer | Published: September 9, 2018

RAEFORD, N.C. (Tribune News Service) -- Staff Sgt. Donna Johnson will not be forgotten.

The North Carolina National Guard made sure of that Saturday, when they renamed the Raeford Readiness Center in honor of the fallen soldier, killed in Afghanistan in 2012.

The Staff Sgt. Donna Johnson Readiness Center will stand as a tribute to a fallen hero in her hometown, officials said.

"We'll make sure her sacrifice is never forgotten," said Brig. Gen. Allen Boyette, the NCNG's assistant adjutant general for sustainment. "She's our legacy. She's our motivation."

Boyette recalled Donna Johnson as a leader who worked hard to prepare soldiers in the 514th Military Police Company for their deployment.

He spoke of the impact of her death at the hands of a suicide bomber on Oct. 1, 2012. How the NCNG and the Raeford community reacted to her loss.

But Donna Johnson's wife, Tracy Dice Johnson, recalled a different moment as she spoke at the dedication.

It was the moment the two met. It was her smile.

"Her smell kept me captivated," Tracy Johnson said. "She made my heart sing a sweet song."

Coming together during the age of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, the pair kept their relationship a secret at first.

Tracy Johnson was serving on active duty, but soon joined her love in the NCNG. The pair were wed months after the September 2011 repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell."

But any chance at a storybook ending was shattered during what was Donna Johnson's second deployment.

Looking back, Tracy Johnson said part of her knew that her wife would not come home.
Donna Johnson volunteered for the deployment, she said. She had the experience the unit needed and wanted to be a better leader and noncommissioned officer.

In the months before she left for Afghanistan, the couple lived life to the fullest -- skydiving, visiting the beach, going whitewater rafting.

"In hindsight, I saw that she also knew she wasn't coming back," Tracy Johnson said.

Nearly six years after her wife's death, Tracy Johnson remembers her as a warm and compassionate woman who believed in integrity, honesty and loyalty.

She said her biggest goal is to make sure Donna Johnson isn't forgotten.

Boyette, before unveiling a sign outside the readiness center, said that's a goal shared by the NCNG.

Fallen soldiers are honored in different ways, he said. There are stories told, names etched in monuments and special places that are dedicated to those lost.

In their own way, the soldiers honored by the NCNG inspire today's force and future generations, Boyette said.

The Raeford Readiness Center -- one of more than two dozen NCNG facilities being renamed for fallen troops -- is a fitting tribute to Donna Johnson, he said.

The center on Teal Drive is the home of the 105th Engineer Battalion. But it's also more than a gathering place for soldiers. It's a community asset, hosting local events and serving as a shelter to those in need during natural disasters.

Future visitors to the Staff Sgt. Donna Johnson Readiness Center will see her name and ask who she was, the general said. And a NCNG soldier will be there to step forward and share her story.

"She's a permanent part of the National Guard," Boyette said. "Her story and her sacrifice will live on beyond all of us."

dbrooks@fayobserver.com

(c) 2018 The Fayetteville Observer. Visit The Fayetteville Observer at www.fayobserver.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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