StoryCorps traveled to Alaska in February to record the voices of our service men and women as a part of it’s military voices initiative. This story comes to us from JBER.
Military recruiters told Johnathon Green that a hand disability would prevent him from ever serving in the military. They said he couldn’t shoot a gun.
Johnathon found his way to Alaska anyway, and eventually into the military’s ranks.
Instead of shooting a gun, Johnathon shoots a camera. At StoryCorps, he tells a co-worker about his long path into military service.
“Well, I guess it would really start on my birthday — January 13, 1961. A Friday. There was a thunder and lightning storm that day. And when I was born I was born with Poland’s syndrome, which affected my left hand.
“I have a thumb. I have a pinkie and ring finger that are stuck together. And my left hand is like in a V-shape. Growing up, I had to go through Shriners to have some surgeries done to make it more efficient.
“And as I got older and got through high school, I always wanted to be in the military. So when I got out of high school, that’s the first place I went to was the Air Force recruiter. And I sat down with him and told him what I wanted to do, and what my ambitions were.
“As soon as he saw my left hand, he told me that I could not join. And I asked him why. He said I had to have the capability of shooting with both hands.
“But then I asked him, ‘well, couldn’t I be like a chauffeur for a colonel? A general? Work in an office, filing, working the post office — you know do something in the service of the country?’ And he still said, ‘No, you have to be able to shoot with both hands going through basic.’
“And so I figured, well, if I can’t go into the Air Force, I’ll try the other three. So I went and talked to the Army and the Navy, and the Marines, and I swear that Air Force recruiter talked to the other three recruiters, because they told me the same thing: I’d have to be able to shoot with both hands. So then I was like, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ I wasn’t 100 percent sure.
“Then I had an opportunity to come to Alaska in ’86, in Sitka, Alaska to work at the pulp mill — and that was really cool. When I arrived in Alaska I knew this was where I wanted to live. During my three and a half years in Sitka I was a volunteer for Parks and Recreation, and interacting with the forest ranger there I figured that, ‘well, I’m going to leave Sitka, I’m going to go to college, and I’m going to become a forest ranger — and learn a little bit about photography.
“I was working at Stewart’s Photo here in downtown Anchorage and I met this one woman from the school district. She talked me into teaching a photography class at Creekside Elementary for the community school program.
“A friend of ours was looking for a job in the government for herself, and she came across an opening for — at the time it was Elmendorf — for a photography position. There were four positions open. I didn’t think I’d have any chance, at all, to get one of the four positions. But I figured, ‘what the hay,’ I’ll go ahead and do it.
“So I went through all the paperwork and whatnot, and to my surprise I was one of four photographers hired to be a photographer on the new Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
“I was pretty thrilled. I finally got my wish — I got to be in the Air Force and support my country.
“I think that the military really has changed, perception-wise. And I’m glad that I have. It’s given me the opportunity to have the job that I have. And I love my job. I look forward to going to work every day.
“And the funny thing is, that way back when the recruiter told me I had to be able to shoot with both hands, well, that’s what I was hired to do — so now I shoot with both hands but I use a camera, not a weapon.”
Jonathan Green’s full 40-minute interview is archived at the Library of Congress.
This piece was edited by Dave Waldron at Alaska Public Media.