Veteran maritime works to preserve history
MARCH 28, 2022 – The saying goes: “Once a sailor, always a sailor”. For Christina Johnson, project manager for the National Museum of the Marine Corps, every day reminds her of the loyal service she and others have given to the Corps.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson, a former sergeant, stood in the museum while watching the traditional Marine Corps birthday cake-cutting ceremony. As the Marines enter with the cake and pass the piece of cake from the oldest Marine to the youngest, Johnson notices a woman beside her crying.
“I could tell she was in pain, so I put my hand on her shoulder and tried to comfort her,” Johnson said of Marine’s proud parent. “Come find out later; she lost her son recently.
After the ceremony, the woman later told Johnson that she had a better appreciation for the Marine Corps. The museum provides an avenue for Johnson as she can meet members of different eras and her family touched by the Marine Corps exhibits.
“This museum has the ability to bring veterans and families together and become a community for people,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t joined the Marine Corps.”
The native of San Gabriel, Calif., served in the Marine Corps for five years in the Military Police Occupational Specialty and was selected for the Marine Corps Embassy Security Guard. After Johnson worked as a contractor at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration training facility for five years and briefly worked at Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Va., Johnson jumped at the chance to join NMMC a year after his official opening in 2006.
“Over the years, Christina has made a number of contributions that have helped Museum staff accomplish our mission,” said Annie Prado, Director of NMMC. “Christina’s understanding of the Corps, its philosophy and its mission gives her an edge in the work she does at the Museum.”
Johnson became a central figure in creating visual stories for Marine Corps history, even being part of an exhibit. She was chosen as a figure in the MCESG section of the museum. She is proud of it while working hard to get the museum expansion completed.
Johnson’s role as project manager is to ensure the team meets deadlines through events or the museum’s “endgame.” The Endgame is the name of the new exhibit focused on continuing the history of the Marine Corps and the current structure of the Marine Corps. One of the members Johnson works with is exhibit specialist Jennifer Jackson, who helps with the layout of display cases for upcoming exhibits.
“It’s great that she’s doing the planning and the analytical side of things for the exhibit,” Jackson said. “Christina is very driven, dedicated, even though she’s been away for a while, she’s a Marine through and through, and I don’t think you can take that away from people.”
Johnson and Jackson have worked on many projects together, but the final phase is an exhibition they are currently excited to show. With a team of people, they were able to preserve the story soon after it was made in Iraq and Afghanistan for the next exhibit.
“When we open these galleries, we’ll see the Marines and their families come in and it will mean so much personally because they were there,” Jackson said.
Johnson went to Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California after high school. However, after a year in college, she found herself more focused on fun than on her studies.
“I was so lost. I went to college, but my heart wasn’t in it at all,” Johnson said. to pull myself together.”
After one of her classes, she walked across the street to a recruiting office and met a recruiter, who guided her into the Corps. After nine months in the Deferred Entry Program, she officially walked on the yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, SC., in February 1993.
After graduating, she went to Fort McClellan, Anniston, Ala., where the military police school was located, and then to the base provost marshal’s office in Quantico. Johnson held 12-hour shifts as a gate watchman, conducted base patrols, and guarded the ammunition supply point during his first two years in the Corps.
Johnson learned about the MCESG program after a recommendation from his first sergeant. According to the MCESG, the mission of a security officer is to protect mission personnel and prevent the compromise of national security information and equipment at U.S. facilities.
“We used the same weapons and tactics like the use of pepper spray, handcuffs, restraints and the use of non-lethal force,” Johnson said. “I had to have a clean criminal record, be financially secure, and pass psychological and physical tests.”
At the time, embassy duty required a Marine to serve overseas for three years with the option to serve at three different embassies, but Johnson only had two years left on his contract. She decided to extend an additional year in the Marine Corps. Only four of the 80 students in her class were women. Women made up only about 6% of the Marine Corps at the time of his service.
“(As a woman,) that’s always the next part, you have to prove yourself, tell yourself you can do it, I can do this job, that’s what I came to do.” Christina Johnson, Project Manager for the National Museum of the Marine Corps
“In that regard, it was harder to prove to some people than to others. They weren’t exactly bashing me, but I could feel their judgement.”
Johnson finished school and soon received orders at the U.S. Embassy branch in Tel Aviv, Israel.
“It was a phenomenal position,” Johnson said. “We just went everywhere to get professional military training, not only do you learn about their culture, but you get to immerse yourself in it.”
The Embassy was right by the beach, so she spent time with the locals or with her fellow Marines after the long hours. Johnson worked 12-hour shifts each day, as she did as a military police. She worked three days in a row with two days off; a day in the morning, then at noon and finally ending with evening shifts.
“You can spend two weeks in another country and get a taste of it, but at MCESG you can hang out with the locals and have the opportunity to be invited to their family dinners, weddings and ‘bar mitzvahs,'” said Johnson.
Johnson was then transferred to the United States Embassy in Dakar, Senegal.
“The Senegalese were incredibly humble about what they lived and how they lived,” Johnson said.
At the time of Johnson’s duty in Dakar, military coups were prominent in West Africa.
“The Senegalese gave us a feeling of welcome and they wanted to help in any way possible. They were grateful because there were dangers around the area,” Johnson said. “It’s not like Dakar is a dangerous post like in other stations, you’ll be confined to the compound.”
Due to continued strains on his shoulder over the years, Johnson’s MCESG career ended early. She had to return to Quantico and underwent surgery. Johnson was healing from her surgery and couldn’t resume her life as a congresswoman, so she was transferred to the Naval Health Clinic Quantico. It was there that she met her future husband. Now Johnson takes the knowledge and experiences she gained from the Marine Corps and continues to give it back long after she hangs up the uniform.
“Those words that they shove down your throat in boot camp, it instilled that sense of honor and esprit de corps, it sounds so cliché, but it’s true,” Johnson said. “I have more sense of topicality and this motivation now than before.”
By Lance Cpl. Jennifer Sanchez
Marine Corps Recruiting Command