Preparing for War

Michael Johnson, a student veteran at UT Martin stands under the American flag at half-mast

By Michael Johnson

Si vis pacem para bellum … If you want peace, prepare for war.

This simple phrase took many more years than I care to admit for me to grasp. A distinct but fine line exists in the shifting sand between love and war; winds can often cause the line to blur, to disappear. For the longest time, as a soldier, I only understood literal physical war on behalf of my country. Not until after my discharge from the military did I learn that physical war was only one small aspect of its meaning.

As a less-than-stellar high school student, stubborn and ready to prove wrong the concept of higher education as the path to the future, I set myself up for failure. My high school transcript remains to this day a testament of my resolve. I graduated 90th out of 98 students. I set forth on the path of working for a living while avoiding higher education at all costs. I survived until I grew tired of merely surviving, doing nothing with my life that would leave this world better than I found it. Then I joined the U.S. Army, planning for it to be my career.

Five short years later, a medical discharge sent me back home with skills that did not transfer easily into civilian work. At the age of 28, I knew I had more to give this life, so my first stop was UT Martin. After submitting my high school transcripts, I did not walk away a shiny new college student that day. Three times I was denied admission. It was no one’s fault but my own, but discouraging nonetheless.

This is where I began to learn the true meaning of “Si vis pacem para bellum.” War is a constant in life, in one form or another. Physical, mental, emotional—we are always at war with something, and it tends to stem from a love for something. We fight for the things we love, and thus love and war are welded together in the forge of life.

I found my way into the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) in McKenzie, Tennessee. I served as the local chapter’s SkillsUSA president as well as a Tennessee State SkillsUSA officer. Every day, I prepared myself for the battle of proving myself worthy of earning a college degree. Then I met the UT Martin’s Veterans Services Coordinator Johnny Dyer, who went to war on my behalf, and I finally found myself a student at UT Martin.

One year later, I am a junior with 64 credit hours, a 3.5 GPA and a dream to help veterans who want to pursue higher education. My TCAT McKenzie family gave me the passion and inspired me to pursue my dreams; Mr. Dyer went to war for me, UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver showed me how to impact the people who surround you—if not for these, I may have given up.

Now I go to war every day for the things that I love. I will keep preparing for battles to help others in their fights.

Michael Johnson is a U.S. Army veteran and a junior at UT Martin.