Pack player Johnson meets First Lady Bush

CSU-Pueblo fullback Brandon Johnson (left), stands with
his father, Mitch, First Lady Laura Bush, and his brother,
Bret, on a visit to the White House.

By Linda Hobbs, Fountain Valley News (Fountain, Colo.)
ThunderWolves fullback Brandon Johnson joined his father, Fountain-Fort Carson High School football coach, Mitch Johnson, in a visit to the White House recently to visit First Lady Laura Bush to attend a banquet honoring national programs designed to help at-risk teens.

The banquet was hosted by President George Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. Johnson is involved with a program called Helping America's Youth (HAY),  a national program designed to focus on supporting the children of military families.  He was honored on behalf of everyone involved with the project.

Johnson explained 48% of the students at Fountain-Fort Carson High School are from military homes.  He has witnessed first-hand the courage and spirit of these young people as they not only meet these challenges, but excel and rise above all expectations. Johnson related that for the teenage sons and daughters of deployed soldiers, each day brings not only the universal struggles of building personal identities, schoolwork, tests, friendships, learning to drive, helping their community, sports, getting into college or any of the myriad pressures of youth.  On top of that, they must incorporate the added burden of never knowing whether one of their parents is in harm's way, whether they're all right, whether or not they're coming home.

"We offer activities as a sort of diversion for kids whose parents are away," Johnson explained.  "People hear about the soldiers overseas, but they really don't know about the hardship left behind.  At every football game, there's always that undercurrent of loved ones who are away."

"We try to be a constant in their lives," Johnson added.  "When they hit our door, for six hours a day, five days a week, we're sort of a second home for them."

What makes the kids of Fountain Valley area of Colorado unique is the sheer numbers means there are a lot of kids in the same situation.  They can commiserate, and support each other.  Each time a football game is played, FFCHS Principal Jim Calhoun asks that all students with military ties stand up.  As the majority of those present rise to their feet, the reality of the war and the sacrifices being made settles upon the stadium.

"If families haven't heard anything in four of five days, and they've come to play a game," Johnson related, "it's about more than football.  It's about character, and helping each other."

Football teaches important life skills, Johnson explained, including resilience, getting up again after getting knocked down, taking a loss but not losing hope and team work.

The White House banquet was a national event, with remote participation via satellite teleconferences from across the US, including Denver over the course of three days.

Brandon Johnson has recently signed to play as fullback at CSU.  This is a special year for CSU as college football has finally returned to Pueblo. The Friends of Football association was instrumental in making the reinstatement possible, after the university lost the program back in the mid-1980's.

Younger son, Bret, plans to attend college, and is currently looking at three universities.  He intends to major in international business with a minor in business management.  Bret's passion has always been philanthropic non-profit programs, a passion he will continue to pursue as he builds his career.

Regardless of one's politics, to stand two feet from the President of the United States, Johnson explained, was an overwhelming privilege, as well as having the opportunity to stand side-by-side with the First Lady Laura Bush for a group photo.

"The First Lady is an extremely gracious person," Johnson recalled.  "She's very personable."

While speeches were read and accolades exchanged, what stood out most in Johnson's mind was their reason for being there, the children of military families, and all they have given on behalf of their country.

"It was such a tremendous honor to be invited to the White House, to go speak about America's youth and have that connection," Johnson commented.

The HAY program and schools of Fountain Valley will continue embrace and support the children through the challenges they face the challenges ahead. Students will grow, learn and prepare the groundwork for their lives, and they will do these things as their parent fight to uphold their freedom to do so.  In this way, they are never truly separated.