AMBOY — Johnny O’Brien’s decision was tough.
The 1994 Amboy High School graduate has spent 28 years in the National Guard and he knew retirement was coming eventually, although he loves the people he works with and his position of Command Sgt. Major for Recruiting and Retention gave him the opportunity to help people make positive changes in their lives.
He could stay in the National Guard and work with people he loves and work a job he loves.
But, then he doesn’t get to see his daughter, Samantha Nauman, as much as he’d like.
With time passing rapidly and Samantha already a sophomore at AHS, O’Brien put in for retirement.
“It was time to get closer to my daughter,” said O’Brien. “The National Guard has been a family. The comradery is what keeps people in and I loved it. There were people at the ceremony that I worked with 20 years ago. I told them, it’s all about my kid. It’s time for me to spend time with Samantha.
“She is in cross country, basketball, and track and field. I’ve missed all that stuff because I was always a couple of hours away. Luckily, it was only a couple of hours, but it made it hard to be a part of her life. That is the biggest reason why I stepped away from the National Guard.
“The National Guard can move on without me. But you can’t get the time back with your daughter.”
The Dixon Armory held a retirement ceremony and the after celebration took place at the Dixon VFW on Friday, June 9. O’Brien’s official last day is Aug. 31, but the paperwork is processed and he is on terminal work leave until his first day of retirement on Sept. 1.
O’Brien’s memory was vividly flashing back to his enlistment with the Dixon National Guard in August 1995, starting his full-time recruitment position in 2001, his being stationed in the Quad Cities, Machesney Park, Joliet, and Springfield, where he lived until a month ago when he moved to Dixon.
He called his tour in 2013 in Afghanistan a vacation compared to the day-to-day grind of being a recruiter.
There are also fond memories of being one of the first instructors of the National Guard’s Recruitment Sustainable Program. When it started there were three RSP locations in Illinois. Now there are 11.
And last year, O’Brien was part of the No. 1 RSP company in the entire nation.
“I stayed in for as long as I did because I was able to help others. I had a purpose,” O’Brien said. “Young men and women are always trying to find ways to advance their lives whether it’s going to school, the service, or whatever fits them best. Seeing people change from the day they walked into the office to the day they got back from boot camp - the growth, maturity - that was the rewarding part for me.
“Parents say kind things. Kids say positive things. It had meaning. I didn’t want to pass the opportunity to help people.”
But if you would have asked a young O’Brien what he was going to be when he grew up, a member of the military was not it.
It wasn’t a thing until it became a thing.
“I had no clue when I was in high school that I’d be in the military. The military was the farthest thing from my mind,” O’Brien said. “I never looked into it until I spoke with a friend and he said I should join. I said, ‘What’s that?’ A recruiter came out to our house and I was enlisted two days later.”
“Being in the military has been everything. It starts with a sense of pride to say I was in the United States of America’s military. But also, the interaction with people. I worked with people from all different walks of life. It has been nice to learn from people from different parts of the state, the country, and the world.
“The best take away is I can understand, read, and identify how people operate because I’ve had the opportunity to be around different kinds of people. I was fortunate to use my position to better understand people.”
O’Brien doesn’t know what’s next work wise. He is currently applying for positions that allow him to do what he loves and does best, help people.
Wherever O’Brien lands next, it will be in the Dixon area and he will have time to spend with his daughter.