JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – Kenny Johnson knows nooks. The licensed professional engineer understands the measurements and angles of unusual spaces and takes great pleasure turning blocks of wood into unique pieces that give problematic places a purpose.
“I enjoy a challenging project,” the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s Environmental Restoration Program Management Chief said recently. “I like to build things that help people, things people can’t find anywhere else.”
Johnson’s reputation as a builder, a problem solver and a fixer has guided every year of his nearly four decades with the Air Force. Throughout his career, supervisors past and present have challenged the Houston native to fix broken programs or create programs where none existed before.
“They call on me, tell me they need something fixed, and that is what I do,” Johnson said.
His bosses aren’t the only ones excited about the work the Prairie View A&M University graduate is doing. Johnson received the Science Spectrum Trailblazer Award in February during the 2023 Black Engineer of the Year Awards Gala in National Harbor, Maryland.
The Trailblazer Award recognizes men and women who actively create new paths for others in science, research, technology and development, according to information released by the BEYA selection committee. BEYA organizers consider award recipients like Johnson “individuals who distinguish themselves by constantly setting their sights higher, striving to innovate and open doors for others.”
Although the Trailblazer is an individual award, Johnson sees it as a team recognition.
“I was shocked by the award because it really is the team that gets things done,” he said. “I’ve accepted this award for all the stakeholders and team members and what they do each day to keep the public safe.”
Operating under the umbrella of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, Johnson and the AFCEC Restoration Program Management team oversee more than 8,000 environmental cleanup sites across 251 locations. They work in partnership with other federal agencies, regulators, academia and the private sector to clean up environmental challenges at Air Force installations.
“I believe the whole AFCEC enterprise has always been a trailblazer in the environmental cleanup community,” he said. “Our team is unlike any other organization.Everyday someone is coming up with something new to get us to a solution that is going to help people.”
AFCEC Environmental Management Director Judy Lopez, who nominated Johnson for the Trailblazer Award, called her teammate a “brilliant ambassador” for the Air Force and a keen leader who has spearheaded aggressive initiatives to understand, develop and execute at the highest levels in the cleanup industry.
“His experience, dedication to service, leadership and cross-functional qualifications that span engineering, design, environmental and management make him a true asset to any program he engages in,” she said. “He exemplifies all that is good within the U.S. Air Force.”
In remarks congratulating Johnson and his fellow Air Force BEYA award recipients, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall emphasized the important role engineers play in the nation’s defense strategy.
“Each of our … recipients are high performers who are shaping the way we fight tomorrow, helping ensure that we remain the premiere Air and Space Force in the world,” he said.
Johnson believes his Trailblazer Award reflects a new era in AFCEC, one defined by innovative, outside-of-the-box thinking.
“There has been great growth within our organization,” he said. “We figured out where we belong in the Air Force, where we need to be so we can do the most good and how we are going to shape mission success in the future.”