Suffolk man leads Va. Guard

Published 8:57 pm Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Suffolk man has been named the state command sergeant major for the Virginia Army National Guard, the highest non-commissioned officer position in the organization.

Cheyenne M. Johnson will succeed Command Sgt. Maj. Carl A. Holcomb in the position.

Cheyenne M. Johnson (Submitted Photo)

Cheyenne M. Johnson (Submitted Photo)

“Basically my job is to oversee day-to-day operations of the guard,” Johnson said.

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He has been in the National Guard for 36 years. He joined initially for the tuition benefits, he said.

“I really wasn’t that interested in the military,” he said. “I was trying to go to school, and they had benefits.”

But once he had stayed long enough to earn the tuition benefits, he decided to stay even longer.

“I enjoyed the camaraderie,” he said. “I liked being able to serve my country.”

The 1976 Forest Glen High School graduate has done two active-duty tours, once for security duty at Army facilities in Northern Virginia and the other in 2009, which took him to Iraq. His full-time jobs have involved working in shipyards, first in Newport News, then at Norfolk Naval and now back in Newport News.

His new assignment means a three-year active-duty tour.

The Virginia National Guard serves two functions. It can be activated by the president at any time for service to the nation. The governor also can activate the Guard in times of civil emergencies such as natural disasters.

“The Guard is like everyone else in the military and government,” he said. “It’s undergoing changes. The military in general will be transformed over the next two to three years. We’re going to be a smaller force and do more with less.”

Even so, Johnson believes the non-commissioned officer corps “is stronger than it’s ever been in my 30-some years with the Guard.”

Johnson has served in every major command in the Virginia National Guard.

Guard officials praised his appointment when it was announced recently.

“Command Sgt. Maj. Johnson brings an impressive amount of experience with him, having served at multiple major subordinate command level positions, most recently as the command sergeant major for the 29th Infantry Division,” said Brig. Gen. Walter L. Mercer.

“He has also served on the National Guard Bureau’s Command Sergeant Major Advisory Council, and that has given him a level of strategic perspective and understanding that will help make sure that the interests of the Virginia Army National Guard are communicated at the (National Guard Bureau) and Department of the Army level.”

Johnson credits his upbringing with making him into the man he is today.

“My mom always encouraged us,” he said. “My dad, he was like a perfectionist. He expected it to be right every time. That helps, because in the military they expect the same thing.”

Johnson grew up in the Holland area, and his parents — dad Bobby and mom Freddie Johnson — still live on Southwestern Boulevard. He and his wife, Cynthia, have two sons, Corey and Carlos, who graduated from Lakeland High School.