Waynesville-St. Robert Chamber of Commerce 2021 Veteran of the Year is a ‘pivotal pillar’ of the Fort Leonard Wood community

Amanda Sullivan, Special to The Rolla Daily News
Johnnie Bryant poses with Maverick, one of the therapy animals at the Fort Leonard Wood USO.  (Photo by Amanda Sullivan, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office)

When the Waynesville-St. Robert Veterans Day Parade begins, Johnnie Bryant, the Chamber of Commerce’s 2021 Veteran of the Year, will be leading it as Parade Marshal.

A retired sergeant first class and former trainee and drill sergeant here, Bryant now works as a housing manager for the Directorate of Public Works while also donating his time as a highly-active volunteer at the USO.

In honor of his 35-plus years of service with the Army — as both Soldier and civilian — and his volunteerism, Bryant is being recognized for his contributions to the Fort Leonard Wood community.

He said he feels extremely humbled to be receiving the award.

“I never expected to receive this honor,” he said. “It means I have affected the lives of the community in a positive way.”

Bryant, originally from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said he moved nine times — seven times with a family — over the span of his 21-year Army career. That experience, he said, helped prepare him for his current role in the Housing Division. His job includes conducting in- and out-processing inspections, maintenance inspections and overseeing new construction projects.

“Being in the military, and moving from place to place, I have experience with everything these Soldiers are going through,” Bryant said. “I’ve been through it. I’ve been through the ups and downs.”

Bryant said knowing what the military move process is like, and having encountered many of the issues himself that Soldiers face, allows him to better serve Soldiers of all ranks — from commanding generals to the new Soldier right out of Advanced Individual Training, who is looking for a home for their family.

“My experience being that Soldier who moved multiple times, I can sympathize and say I’ve had that happen to me,’” he said. “I look at everything through those lenses. I look at it as if it were me, my wife and my son living in that house. How would I feel? How would I react? And what would I expect the housing manager to do for me?”

He said his favorite part of the job is the joy he sees in families who love their new home.

“My favorite is to go to a move-in and get a family that’s just traveled and wants the best house available and they say, ‘We love it. This is what we want. It is beautiful. No issues,’” Bryant said. “That’s what I like to hear. That’s what I live for. I just want to see them happy.”

In addition to working as a housing manager, Bryant has accumulated more than 1,300 volunteer hours at the USO.

He said he loves the interactions with the young Soldiers, and that his former role as a drill sergeant comes in handy sometimes.

“I love imparting my knowledge on them,” he said. “As a former drill sergeant, I can give advice and offer new perspectives.”

His service has not gone unnoticed, said Kelly Brownfield, USO Western Missouri Regional Operations director.

“We consider Johnnie one of the pivotal pillars here at the Fort Leonard Wood USO,” Brownfield said. “He not only strengthens our mission, he helps expand our outreach of service. Whether that is helping USO staff with day-to-day duties, recruiting new volunteers or helping raise awareness of the USO and our needs, he is always there by our side lending a helping hand.”

Bryant completed Basic Combat Training here in 1985. He said he was inspired to join the Army by an uncle who was a drill sergeant at Fort Benning, Georgia — Bryant later found himself returning to Fort Leonard Wood as a drill sergeant himself. He said molding America’s sons and daughters into Soldiers was the proudest moment of his career.

Bryant retired from the Army at Fort Leonard Wood in 2006. His advice to new Soldiers is simple: “learn to be patient.”

“Sometimes, I think people rush into things, and it’s not the best thing for them,” he said. “You have to stop and think, ‘Is this the best course of action at this time?’”

The Veterans Day ceremony begins at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 at the St. Robert Municipal Center parking lot — the parade follows.