Forging The Future With Past Wisdom
by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Louis Vega
February 25, 2020
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history."
This is never truer than within military culture steeped in heritage and tradition.
Jessica Johnson, 944th Fighter Wing historian, is the wing’s first full-time historian whose primary responsibility is to advise the commander and his staff on historical issues as they pertain to current decision making.
October 24, 2019 Jessica Johnson, 944th Fighter Wing historian, reads a military history book at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. Johnson is the wing’s first fulltime historian whose primary responsibility is to advise the commander and his staff on historical issues as they pertain to current decision making. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Louis Vega Jr.)
“We preserve the history of the wing,” said Johnson. “We write a yearly history of the wing to include who the commanders were, lineage, and honors. We document wing accomplishments and milestones for future reference and manage a lot of heritage based items and answer historical inquiries.”
Col. James Greenwald, 944th FW commander, expressed the benefits of having a full time historian.
“The historian position is important because it connects us with our past and also with our future,” he said. “It’s easy to say ‘Things were different back then,’ or ‘Studying the past will just prepare us for the past. The reason we look back is to find those visionary leaders who ‘got it right’ and made us the Air Force we are today. We look back so we can emulate the characteristics that enabled them to deal with the challenges of their present and prepare for an uncertain future.”
Johnson, a U.S. Air Force veteran with a background in graphic design and public affairs, graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History focusing on the American Revolution and World War II.
“This is my dream job,” said Johnson. “I’ve always wanted to be a historian, and to be the historian for a unit like the 944th who’s had so much history in such a short period of time is an honor. It’s a privilege to preserve this legacy so that future generations can read about and learn from the things we have done.”
Johnson’s natural curiosities and interests about the past began at a young age.
“When I was little, I took a trip to colonial Williamsburg with my family and it made me want to figure out how people lived in the past,” said Johnson. “When I started studying history, I wanted to understand the cultural impact of events in history and how society bloomed from what it was then to what it is now.”
Greenwald consistently speaks about the importance of understanding heritage and the impact an individual can have on the big picture.
“It’s important that we understand where we came from, what kind of people brought us to where we are, and what lessons they learned along the way,” said Greenwald. “Sometimes we might wonder how much our service matters in the big scheme. Looking back at our heritage helps us see the big picture. Those folks didn’t know they were making history. They were just serving like you. Sometimes the importance of their actions didn’t become apparent until we looked at it years in the future. Knowing our heritage connects us to it and reminds us that we have a role in something important.”
As the new historian, Johnson is seeking assistance from each squadron or group within the 944th to help with accurate documentation.
“Each squadron or geographically separated unit can assign a unit historian to collect information on big events like deployments or awards,” said Johnson. “Any after action reports are valuable to historians because they have all the numbers like flying hours and aircraft records which are really important to have in the archives.”
According to Johnson, most of the historian’s work goes to the Air Force Historical Research Agency, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, that anyone can access online.
Johnson’s enthusiasm for her new role resonates from her philosophy of the past.
“You can’t learn how to go forward without looking at your past,” Johnson concluded. “You have to look back and see things humanity has done and try to better ourselves from that.”
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