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Fallen Soldier Honored, Remembered For Heroism

Jeremiah Johnson was the type of person who was constantly in motion. Johnson, known as “J.W.,” was loved by many, and more than 150 people turned out Saturday at the Capitol Theatre in Greeneville to honor the memory of the U.S. Army Special Forces soldier.

Johnson was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star Medal during a valor award ceremony for his actions during an ambush on Oct. 4, 2017, in Niger, Africa. He and three other team members were killed during the attack.

Present Saturday at a valor award ceremony were family members, friends and Army representatives, including Major Gen. John Deedrick, commanding officer of the 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne).

Participants in the program included other Army personnel, including Special Forces soldiers, members of the Greene County Honor Guard and county Mayor Kevin Morrison.

Family members at the ceremony included Johnson’s wife, Crystal, and daughters Addie and Elisa. His father, also known as J.W. Johnson, reflected on his son’s life before the ceremony.

“It makes us feel proud. I think he would be incredibly humbled,” said Johnson, a Marine veteran who lives in Erwin. Crystal Johnson and her family live in Greene County, along with many other relatives.

Jeremiah Johnson grew up in a military family and was born in New Bern, North Carolina, where his father was stationed at the time at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. The North Greene High School graduate was 39 at the time of his death in October 2017.

J.W. Johnson said his son planned to return to Greene County after retiring from the military.

“He loved this place,” he said.

Growing up, Johnson’s son “spent his youth around the military and law enforcement” but engaged in other pursuits before enlisting in 2007 at age 29 in the U.S. Army Reserves. He joined the active duty Army in 2008.

Johnson was first assigned to the 22nd Chemical Battalion at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.

He joined the elite 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) in 2015, where he was assigned to a chemical reconnaissance detachment in the Group Support Battalion.

Johnson was killed when a joint American and Nigerien patrol came under hostile fire in southwest Niger.

He was one of 12 members of an Army Third Special Forces Group that had just left the village of Tongo Tongo near the Mali border on the morning of Oct. 4, 2017, in a convoy of seven unarmored pickup trucks.

The patrol began taking small-arms fire from a treeline and tried a maneuver to outflank the enemy, but had to pull back.

The attack built in intensity as enemy fighters on motorcycles threatened to overrun them. An account of the action said the Americans and their Nigerien partners fought back fiercely, but were outnumbered and outgunned. They made several attempts to break out and withdraw, but had to retreat to a final defensive position.

Four members of Team Ouallam, named after the camp they staged out of, were killed in the encounter. In addition to Johnson, killed in action were Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia; and Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Florida.

Johnson “made Special Forces five years into the military and he served five years,” his father said. “He was no doubt at the top of his field.”

Johnson was posthumously promoted to Sergeant First Class. On Saturday, his wife and other family members were presented with the Bronze Star Medal with Valor on his behalf.

The Bronze Star is the fourth-highest decoration for valor, presented to a soldier who “distinguishes himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States,” according to a description of the medal.

Jeremiah Johnson was dedicated to ensuring the well-being of his fellow team members, who “shared a brotherhood that can ever be rivaled,” J.W. Johnson said.

“That’s what he wanted to do with those guys, is be there with them and if he had it to do, he would do it again,” his father said.

The Capitol Theatre was full of supporters Saturday who exchanged hugs and words of support with family members after the ceremony.

“It honors us to share the recognition with the community he loved,” J.W. Johnson said. “It makes us feel proud.”

Greeneville attorney K. Kidwell King Jr., a family friend, helped organize the event. King said many people were generous with their time and resources.

“I was so proud of our community,” King said. “I think people should all know this is how we are.”

Army Chaplain Chase Musick said during the ceremony invocation that Jeremiah Johnson lived “a lifetime of hundreds of courageous decisions.”

Musick’s sentiments were echoed by Deedrick, who presented Bronze Star commendations to Johnson’s family.

Deedrick took notice of the American flags lining Main Street in Greeneville as he arrived for the award ceremony.

“This is why we serve. We never forget our sacred oath to take care of our soldiers and take care of the families,” he said.

“Today we will remember J.W. Johnson for his heroism. We will remember his legacy of service and sacrifice,” Deedrick said.

Johnson “was willing to put the lives of others above his own,” Deedrick said.

The Bronze Star “is every small reminder of his devotion to his neighbors, his teammates and his friends,” he added.

“Each of you has memories of him that are special and this is a small reminder,” Deedrick said. “We will never forget J.W. and his life.”

Johnson will be remembered as a husband, father, and son, “but in our ranks, he will be remembered as a warrior,” Deedrick said.

Johnson will also be remembered “as a remarkable soldier and a remarkable man,” Deedrick said. “He gives us all someone to emulate.”

The ceremony served another purpose for Jeremiah Johnson’s family.

“We received so many cards and letters and calls. It was your kindness that got us through this,” J.W. Johnson said during the program.

He thanked his wife, Joann, for her support, and reiterated how proud they are of Jeremiah.

J.W. Johnson described his son as “charismatic, full of life” and a true professional, “never afraid of anything.”

“He never sat still, he was constantly on the go.

“I think this (ceremony) does help tremendously. It’s just putting that final sentence in the paragraph,” Johnson said. “I think we are going to find peace, but we are never going to forget.”


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Boys & Girls Club
Sold-Out Celebrity Auction Nets $80K

The Boys & Girls Club of Greeneville & Greene County’s 20th annual Celebrity Auction on Saturday was a great success.

The sold-out event raised a net profit of over $80,000 for the local Boys & Girls Club’s activities and programs, a news release said.

The event had a huge turnout with many having to stand after the buffet dinner for the live and silent auction. The auction raised funds for the Boys & Girls Club programs and activities and featured 716 items ranging from vacation packages, meals at local restaurant and businesses certificates and items, as well as memorabilia and autographs from the world of sports, politics, music, TV, movies, notables and many other unique items.

“We really had great participation from our bidders, and we were able to exceed our expectations for our live and silent auction again items this year,” said Rebecca Tipton, a board member and the co-chairman of this year’s event along with Eddie Yokley.

Several bidders in attendance said they were amazed at how the Boys & Girls Club was able to get so many different items. Many unique items were on display for sale as there was something for everyone at this year’s event, organizers said.

“The Boys & Girls Club was very pleased with the generous bids the Boys & Girls Club received this year,” said Ted Bryant, of co-title sponsor Summers Taylor and a Boys & Girls Club board member. “Our success was due to the hard work of all the Boys & Girls Club staff, board and event volunteers that put this auction together. We are grateful to the members of our community that came and bid generously to make this event a huge success and all of the generous donors that help supply items for this event.”

This year’s event was title sponsored by Forward Air and Summers Taylor. Other major sponsors included: Ballad Health, Bluewater Industries, Greeneville Federal Bank, Greeneville Light & Power System, Landair, Meade Equipment, Merkel Bros, Modern Woodmen, Power Equipment, Rogers Manufacturing, Stowers Machinery and Vulcan Materials.

The top selling item of the night was a John Deere Z525E Mower with a 54-inch mower deck donated by John Deere Power Products that went for $3,600.

Other items that sold with great interest included a Wyndham Resort vacation package donated by Dr. Daniel Lewis; a Greeneville Fire Department American flag made from retired fire hoses; an Earl Campbell Houston Oilers Hall of Fame autographed football jersey; an Alvin Kamara New Orleans Saints autographed football jersey; a Mark Russell custom blown and sculptured glass bowl; four golf rounds at Dolphin Head, Pinecrest, Island West and Palmetto Hall; a vacation getaway at Riverside Towers in Pigeon Forge; and a Southern Rentals & Real Estate in Destin, Florida, stay.

Other items included a Yamaha Raptor Mini ATV, a Char-Broil TRU-Infrared 2 Burner Gas Grill donated by TA & Carla Bewley, a Galaga Arcade Machine, and a Diamond Resorts Williamsburg vacation package donated by Eddie and Carolyn Yokley.

Also auctioned were a Cliff Williams “AC/DC” autographed electric guitar donated by Korner Pawn; a Star White Board autographed by The Band Perry, Air Supply, Foreigner, Shia Labeouf and many more, donated by Catalyst Coffee Company; a Brooks Brothers Gift Card; Catalyst Coffee Company bags of freshly roasted coffee every month for a year; a Pete Rose Cincinnati Reds autographed Adirondack Baseball Bat; a stay at the Westin Peachtree Plaza in Atlanta, Georgia; and a Rick Barnes Tennessee Volunteers autographed basketball donated by Tony Ottinger.

A Grand Rental Station Sthil F5 38 weed trimmer; a stay at the Comfort Inn in Raleigh, North Carolina; a stay at the Edgewater Beach & Golf Resort in Panama City Beach, Florida; a getaway to The ParkVista in Gatlinburg; a Snapps Ferry Packing Whole Beef Fillet; a Jack Links Meat Snacks Beef Jerky packets monster box; a Golden State Warriors 2018 NBA Champions Stephen Curry replica ring; a vacation stay at The Guest House at Graceland in Memphis; an advertisement in The Greeneville Sun; and tickets to see the Tennessee Volunteers vs. BYU donated by Dr. Daniel Lewis; and a John Smoltz Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame autographed baseball donated by Everette “Scotty” and Vanda Scott were just some of the top items from the over 700 items that were sold during the evening.

Scott Bullington, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club thanked board members of the Boys & Girls Club, the Celebrity Auction committee and the volunteers of his organization for pulling together this team effort that made the auction such a success.

“We could not achieve our continued successes without the efforts of these individuals. We are very fortunate to have such a caring group to support our community’s youth,” stated Bullington.

He added that Aly Collins, Eddie and Carolyn Yokley, Cathy Osborne, Ainsley Freeman, Carla Bewley, Dr. Daniel Lewis, Eddie Brown, Laura Pendleton, Josh Swatzell, John Traylor, Rebecca Tipton, Sandy Nienaber, Carla Bewley, Andy Schlesing, Josh Quillen, Everette “Scotty” Scott, Jeff Gosnell, Sandy Nienaber, Christine Tucker-Kelley, Dan and Brenda Walton and Ted Bryant were instrumental in helping the Club to acquire many of the auction items and sponsors for this year’s event.

Bullington added that the organization was very fortunate to get so many items in the mail from celebrities across the country and beyond. “You can tell that these people care about kids,” he added

“We are very grateful that the Boys & Girls Club is able to get items from so many businesses and notables and the great local and regional items that complement the auction,” Dr. Daniel Lewis, a Boys & Girls Club board member stated. “We could not have the event that we have without this most generous support.”

Josh Quillen a member of the Boys & Girls Club Board expressed thanks to, “Scott Bullington and all the wonderful staff members of the Boys & Girls Club and also thanked the many volunteers that helped to make this year’s event a success.”

He also praised the great work by Eddie Yokley, Shane Carter, Scott Wills and Jim Carter who volunteered as the evening’s auctioneers and bid spotters. Club board member Eddie Brown thanked the many volunteers who helped pull items and helped with the check out and to Chris Oldenberg, Carla Renner and the entire Trinity United Methodist Kitchen Crew for food for the event.

Events such as the Celebrity Auction help to fund the local Boys & Girls Club activities and staffing. The school year membership at the Boys & Girls Club is $25 per child per school year and $175 for the entire summer program, the release said.

The Boys & Girls Club is open to all school-age youth who reside in Greeneville and Greene County. The Boys & Girls Club has various programs for youth development including: character and leadership development, arts, sports fitness and recreation, education and career development and health and life skills.

The local Boys & Girls Club has received many state and local awards for its community involvement and youth development programs over the past few years and remains a leader in youth development for the community, the release said.

The Boys & Girls Club serves many youth each year through its after-school and summer programs, school outreach projects and youth sports events.

For more information on the Boys & Girls Club, visit 740 W. Church St., call 787-9322 or 787-9334, or visit www.ggcbgc.org. More information and photos from Saturday’s auction can be found by searching Facebook for “Boys & Girls Club of Greeneville & Greene County.”


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Trail Cameras Helping Wildlife Officials Keep Feral Hogs In Check

Tucked deep in the woods near the county’s western tip, a trail camera captures photos of some of the region’s most elusive animals.

There’s a curious fox. A wary coyote. And a sizable beaver.

Dozens of trail cameras, employed by outdoor enthusiasts, hunters and landowners, are likely scattered across Greene County. These devices do more than generate interesting photos for wildlife fanatics.

In the Volunteer State, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency utilizes these remote units for an array of research, including tracking and surveying the population of both elk and black bear. When state officials in 2015 confirmed the return of mountain lions — declared gone from the region since the 1930s — to Tennessee, trail cameras played a significant role. State records show that of the 10 confirmed cougar sightings over the last four years, nine have come from landowner-submitted trail cameras.

But perhaps the technology’s most important use comes from the state’s Wild Hog Eradication Action Team, a 24-organization partnership dedicated to purging the state of invasive feral hogs.

Thanks in part to illegal trapping and releasing in the late 1990s, the wild hog population has jumped in Tennessee and in Greene County.

“Because wild hogs are extremely wary, cellular trail cameras allow us to know when they’re visiting our traps without having to disturb them, and we can even trigger the traps remotely,” said Matthew Cameron, information specialist with the TWRA.

Over the last decade, state and local administrators have conducted a range of surveys to get a sense of the feral hog population in Tennessee. In 2015, the TWRA concluded that wild hogs unleashed across the state roughly $26 million in property damage.

Agriculture officials surveyed about 300 farmers at the Greene County Livestock Association Annual Banquet in late 2013. More than half of the farmers who were surveyed reported either knowing someone who had land damaged by wild pigs or had themselves experienced property damage.

Partly a response to such surveys, Tennessee since 2011 has relaxed restrictions on wild hog eradication. Landowners, for example, can trap using live bait outside of big game seasons and may kill a feral hog year-round. Landowners may even obtain a permit that allows them to kill wild hogs at night using a spotlight.

“Our [Wild Hog Eradication Action] team benefits greatly from cellular trail cameras to help with wild hog control efforts,” said Cameron.

Yet when it comes to photos and wildlife research, what you see isn’t always reality. Sophisticated editing technology allows would-be hoaxers to manipulate images and pass them off as authentic.

Nationally, that is probably no truer that when it comes to alleged “Bigfoot” sightings. Almost every year, news outlets across the country publish edited photos and videos — all shot down by scientists — whose owners claim capture the mysterious creature.

The TWRA takes steps to make sure that the photos used for research by wildlife officials are genuine.

“Yes, photographs are easily manipulated so seeing isn’t necessarily believing,” Cameron said. “Most trail cameras place time and date information on the photographs and if the public shares something unusual, we can investigate. A reverse image search typically reveals a photo taken from the internet, and if the sender can’t verify the location and other details, they are usually a hoax.”