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Columbus native reflects on 26-year military career

Columbus native and U.S. Army Master Sgt. Johnny Wise Jr. has drawn his inspiration for a long military career from a somewhat unlikely source.

“I never was a military brat, but my grandad, who I never met before in my life, was a retired CSM, command sergeant major,” Wise said. “And I think that’s the light that’s burned in my heart, that’s churning in my heart, that makes me keep striving to the highest point of the enlisted ranks that I can go, which is command sergeant major. Never met the guy, but he’s been my inspiration.”

Currently stationed in Orlando, Fla., where he works as a logistics plans non-commissioned officer, Wise has spent his entire adult life serving his country and his community — just like his grandfather.

Born in Columbus in 1966, Wise was an energetic Junior ROTC cadet at Baker High School who always knew he wanted a military career. After graduating in 1984, he joined the Army at age 18 and went to basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. From there Wise went to Fort Lee, Va., to learn how to be a petroleum supply specialist. Since the Army needed more soldiers who could drive trucks at the time, Wise was next sent to truck driver training at Fort Dix, N.J. Then, in July of 1985 he deployed to Germany for 18 months.

While in Germany, Wise operated a petroleum vehicle on a base that bordered what was then Czechoslovakia.

Wise left active duty and went into the reserves in 1992. He worked as a firefighter and postal worker for a while, but he missed the soldier’s life. So he made the transition to the active guard reserves in August 2000.

Wise was stationed in Alabama, but living in Mississippi when terrorists flew two commercial aircraft into the World Trade Center Towers on Sept. 11. He recalled his reaction to seeing the second plane crash into one of the towers in New York City.

“I said, oh my God. I said man is that real? I mean it looked like it was a movie. And at that point right there I knew for a fact I was going to war some day real soon because I knew that it had something to do with al-Qaida.”

In September 2003, Wise began training for war. The following March he deployed to Iraq with a transportation company out of North Carolina. It was on that deployment in November that Wise would earn his highest military decoration to date, the Bronze Star.

While serving overseas in Iraq, Wise was responsible for a large convoy that carried goods such as ammunition, food, water and vehicle parts to soldiers fighting in hostile enemy territories. One day while en route to a supply drop off point at Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, three improvised explosive devices detonated in front of Wise’s convoy and two soldiers were seriously wounded. Saving their lives required a helicopter to medically evacuate them out. Wise called in the helicopter, set up a safe landing zone and got his wounded men off the battlefield. For his actions that day, Wise was awarded the Bronze Star.

“It wasn’t a big deal because of the fact that I had kept my promises to the families of my soldiers and to the soldiers that I would not put them in a situation that I wouldn’t be out there in that same situation with them,” Wise said. “I was just so happy at the fact that I could look in the eyes of the 44 soldiers that I brought to combat and that I took them back and watched them step back on the plane, nothing missing, no body parts. So I didn’t really care. They told me that they put me in (for the Bronze Star), but it was nice to see my soldiers get their medals.”

In January 2009, Wise deployed again, this time to Afghanistan. He spent a year overseas working with NATO forces in the Joint Operations Center, which was responsible for providing logistical support for all of Afghanistan.

Wise lives in Orlando with his high school sweetheart and wife of more than 20 years, Annette Wise.

“High school sweethearts and we’re still together,” Wise said. “She’s been my inspiration, my support, my rock that I’ve been leaning on since I’ve been in the military. She and my mom, who still lives in Columbus. They’ve been my rocks.”

Wise and his wife have two children, Zerlena, 20, and Ja’Nequa, 15. Wise said he plans on retiring from the Army in about four years to spend more time with his family.

“The Army has been my lifeline,” Wise said. “It’s been a very, very outstanding career for me because of the fact that I enjoy serving my country. Anything that I could do as a soldier I gave 110 percent.”