From Vietnam to Hawaiʻi, and Always in Service

Thomas Brown

U.S. Army veteran and volunteer leader Sue Johnson talks about her proud role of serving communities in need from behind the scenes.

Sue Johnson lives in Hawaiʻi, on the island of Maui. She was born in Vietnam, adopted as by a U.S. military family, and raised in America. Today a retired Army veteran, Johnson describes her job now as, “helping people.” 

After college, Johnson joined the U.S. Army, working as a petroleum supply specialist and vehicle mechanic. Her brothers were in the military, as was her father, and for someone who’d always felt compelled to help people, the decision to serve was easy. That decision was, unfortunately, cut short by cancer, and Sue reluctantly accepted a medical discharge from the Army.  

She wandered for a while, being of service where and how she could. An avid cyclist, she spent some time working with the Wounded Warriors Project, helping teach disabled veterans how to ride bikes with prosthetic limbs. She also sits on the board of All Are We Water Collective, a nonprofit that partners with Tribal and Indigenous communities on the West Coast and in Maui to promote outdoor educational and recreational programs for families. She will quickly admit that she gets bored easily, claiming that “I have to stay busy,” but will just as speedily acknowledge that she likes being of service. 

Finding Team Rubicon in 2015 was invaluable to Johnson; it brought her the sense of purpose and camaraderie she had been missing since leaving uniform and she enjoys wearing her new grey uniform.  

“I’m very proud to be wearing [the grey shirt],” she says. 

Johnson has deployed on 60 operations with Team Rubicon, from responding to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico to serving as a task force leader when Team Rubicon provided logistical wrap-around support for Maui’s wildfire response—and has served dozens of communities in between. She mostly works as a logistics officer these days, coordinating volunteers and the supplies they need. Like any Greyshirt volunteer, Sue doesn’t ask for rewards or accolades, which is good because logistics personnel generally work from behind the scenes.  

“A true hero is invisible,” she says. “And any logistics person will tell you.” 

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