Helicopter pilot involved in ‘Black Hawk Down’ takes on First Baptist Concord role supporting veterans community
The world was shocked when two U.S. helicopters were shot out of the African sky in 1993. The event became famous, known as “Black Hawk Down.” Farragut resident Scott Johnson had been stationed in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993, and was in the pilot’s seat that night. His helicopter was hit several times, but wasn’t brought down. Instead, Johnson spent the night rescuing 33 soldiers and helping protect the downed copters and the troops on the ground.
Two weeks ago, with a law enforcement deployment imminent, Johnson had to get some important business taken care of: he had to launch a revamp of a group that is particularly important to him — his church’s veterans’ ministry called “Warrior’s Heart.”
“We have too many veterans returning from combat who don’t get the attention they deserve and need,” said Johnson, a member of First Baptist Concord. “The government isn’t funded enough for those projects. I’m looking for church and community members who may have never served in the military to help veterans with specialties they may have in the business world. We as a church have so many resources that could help.”
When Johnson was asked to take over leadership of the group this fall, he recruited some helpers, met with past leaders, and came up with a mission statement: “We provide mental, spiritual, and physical support to the veteran community with the resources of the church and the compassion of its people to ensure the warrior’s heart grows in the love of the living God.” The group has formed six “squads” to meet the needs of local veterans, whether they are church members or not.
At a luncheon on Sunday, church members got a chance to hear about the new ministry and sign up to help, but co-organizer Jenny Testerman says interested community members are invited to help, too.
Johnson says that he hopes all six squads are soon running independently.
Johnson and Jim Montgomery will lead the outreach squad.
“One of our hardest tasks is to identify the veterans and their families who need help,” Johnson said. “We all know they’re Type A people and don’t want to ask for help.” To get the word out, Johnson plans to visit all local guard units and post cards about the ministry.
Harold and Karen Lynn, who spent nearly nine years in the military, along with Jack Evans, will head up the spiritual squad.
“Twenty veterans a day are committing suicide,” Harold said. “That’s 21 percent higher than the civilian rate. We want to make veterans in our community know they’re not alone.”
“In the military we felt part of a community,” Karen said. “When we got out, we didn’t feel a part of that. We know the challenges of long deployments and the post-deployment challenges.”
The Rev. John Avant, FBC pastor, has a history of military service in his family. Avant himself served over military chaplaincy as a civilian for the Southern Baptist Convention.
"I'm excited that we can provide encouragement, fellowship, support, and practical help for veterans in our community,” he said. “They have stood at the post for each one of us. What a privilege to in some small way stand at the post for them."
The first meeting of a “life group” for veterans is set for 6:30 p.m., Wed., March 1, at the Farragut Library community room and will meet after that on the first Wednesday of each month. All local veterans and their families are invited. The Lynns plan to start a similar group at the Bearden branch library on the third Wednesday of each month.
The counseling squad will be led by Joshua Ellsworth, who spent five years in active duty in the Army. He said individuals will experience the constant grind and anxiety of being deployed and not realize it.
“Seventy percent of veterans who commit suicide are not regularly using VA services,” he said. “Veterans are not likely to seek help. Mental health problems go undetected or untreated. We want to provide a confidential help service whether through direct counseling or using outside services.”
Veteran Mark Tranum will lead the physical squad that will help veterans with tangible things like home and car repair.
“We will develop a community of veterans,” he said. “If you meet someone’s physical needs, it’s easier to reach their spiritual needs.”
Wife of a serviceman, Jenny Testerman, will lead the administrative team.
“We’re the rear detachment,” she said. “We’re the glue. Service members and families are five times more likely to go to their religious family than anyone else for help. We can provide veterans with resources.”
Leigh Johnson, Scott’s wife, will lead the social squad. She plans to host events, including a picnic in the summer and coffees for families. They also plan to help with childcare.
“During the two years Warrior’s Heart has existed, 100-150 veterans have attended, but the group hit a lull,” Testerman said. “The revamp is to create genuine community. We want to help veterans transition into civilian life.”
For more information, call the church at 865-672-1491.