Brother in arms — UND Army ROTC cadet and helicopter pilot Annika Johnson inspired by sibling’s sacrifice

Veterans Day is a holiday to remember and commemorate the great men and women that have fought for this country. Although they may be gone, they will never be forgotten.

For University of North Dakota senior Annika Johnson, the military runs in the family.

Having both a brother and a grandfather who served their country was a real inspiration for Johnson. The Blue Earth, Minn., native wasn’t entirely convinced of her future career path when she was in high school, until one alarming day changed her life.

Johnson was about 15 years old when her family got a call saying that her brother, Hans, was injured while serving overseas. He was serving as a combat engineer at the time.

“We don’t realize how long we have with the ones we love,” Johnson said.

Annika Johnson and her brother, Hans.

Annika Johnson and her brother, Hans.

Seeing her brother wounded only made Johnson appreciate the fact that he had a good leader who was there to take care of her brother and his team when they needed it most. That is the reason she decided to come to UND and join the school’s award-winning Reserve Officer Training Corps to become an effective leader and make the right decisions at the right times.

“Having ROTC here has helped me realize what I want to do and to be able to be there for soldiers, like my brother,” Johnson said.

As the only female in her commercial aviation-helicopters class, Johnson considers her classmates to be family. Though she is not the first pilot in her family, she is the first to fly helicopters. Her grandfather is also a pilot and has inspired Johnson to take to the skies.

“When I’m flying it feels like nothing else matters,” Johnson said.

To be in ROTC and the Commercial Aviation program is no easy task, but that doesn’t stop her from tackling it head on.

“ROTC has shown me how far I can push myself,” Johnson said. “You grow as you go.”

For her, the Army produces determined, passionate and strong-willed people who are looking to make a commitment to their country.

Part of what motivates Johnson is ROTC leaders such as Master Sergeant Christianson participate in drills and workouts with the students.

“They show us that they too are a part of this group,” she said. “They take care of us as people and as soldiers.”

Annika is beginning her fourth year in the Army ROTC program. Her senior class is the last one to have the Helicopter Flight Training Program.

For Christianson, ROTC programs are important in molding students to be skillful not only in the army but also academically.

“She’s got all the characteristics of a great leader and has a bright future ahead of her,” Christianson said.

For Annika, her brother’s sacrifice has encouraged her to make her own commitment to her country.

She will join the ranks of those defending the red, white and blue.

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