By Melissa Buckley, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Nov. 8, 2023) — “They describe Ryan’s room as looking like a tornado had come through it, windows broken, furniture overturned and the ceiling caved in,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Reed, 1st Psychological Operations Battalion commander, after pinning a Purple Heart to the chest of Staff Sgt. Ryan Johnson during a ceremony Friday in Lincoln Hall Auditorium.

Reed went on to explain that on Dec. 11, 2019, Johnson and his team were in their sleeping quarters at Bagram Airfield, when a “massive vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, combined with a ground attack, occurred within 100 meters of their location.”

Showing signs of a traumatic brain injury, Johnson was medevac’d to Germany, then sent to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and finally back to Fort Liberty, North Carolina, where he spent nearly a year recovering.

At the time of the attack, Johnson, a Psychological Operations Specialist, was deployed with Company A, 1st Psychological Operations Battalion (Airborne), as team leader of the Military Information Support Task Force – Afghanistan.

Johnson, a St. Louis native, is currently serving at Fort Leonard Wood as a drill sergeant for Company A, 701st Military Police Battalion.

It wasn’t logistically possible for all of his company’s Soldiers in training to be there, but the top performers were invited to watch the ceremony.

“I wanted them to witness something like this because it’s rare and special. It’s an event that most of them will probably never see again. I also believe it’s an experience many of them will never have to witness,” Johnson said.

Johnson describes the day of the attack as, “one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever witnessed.”

He had just woken up, when he said he felt, “a massive explosion ripped through the air, and I could hear the building’s metal framework groan and crumple under the assault of the blast wave and debris.”

“I could actually feel the blast wave surge through me, triggering a visceral sensation that the container I was living in might topple over. But it was just the raw power of the blast passing by. Suddenly, darkness enveloped us as the power failed. I hastily dressed and rushed to ensure my team’s safety,” he recalled.

He stepped outside into early morning darkness and said he can remember being hit with the overwhelming smell of diesel fuel.

“I immediately realized we had been targeted by some kind of vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. Within a minute of venturing outside, gunfire erupted. The proximity was startling. With only our pistols for defense, we relied on the building’s wall for cover — our backs against the concrete. Chaos reigned,” he recalled.

He said he didn’t realize the true magnitude of the devastation caused by the VBIED until daylight, but even then, they were still under attack and hadn’t taken time to inspect the extent of the damage.

“This intense confrontation lasted for an agonizing five or six hours. By noon, they had relocated Camp Alpha personnel to the far end, away from the hospital which the Taliban had commandeered. With everyone at a safe distance, the final stroke was delivered — a Hellfire missile, which incinerated the compromised building,” he said.

Reed said in their regimental hallway at Fort Liberty, there are sections for Soldiers killed in action and wounded in action going back to the Vietnam War.

“There are 46 names on the Purple Heart wall. Scott East is the 46th and Staff Sgt. Johnson is the 47th,” Reed said.

A few months ago, retired Sgt. Scott East, a teammate of Johnson’s, also received a Purple Heart for injuries sustained during the same VBIED explosion.

Johnson said his future goals are to attend the Sapper Leader Course and to be accepted into the master’s program at the National Defense University, where he aims to enhance his leadership capabilities and expand his understanding of national security and military strategy.


Lt. Col. Jeffrey Reed, 1st Psychological Operations Battalion commander, pins a purple heart to Staff Sgt. Ryan Johnson’s chest during a Purple Heart presentation ceremony held Friday in Lincoln Hall Auditorium. Johnson is currently a drill sergeant with Company A, 701st Military Police Battalion. Johnson’s newest medal is for injuries he received when his Afghanistan compound was attacked in 2019. Assisting with the presentation of the medal is 1st Psychological Operations Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. James Roscoe. (Photo Credit: Photo by Melissa Buckley, Fort Leonard Wood Public AfUniversity, where he aims to enhance his leadership capabilities and expand his understanding of national security and military strategy.

















About Fort Leonard Wood

Fort Leonard Wood is a thriving and prosperous installation that has evolved from a small basic training post 80 years ago to a premier Army Center of Excellence that trains nearly 80,000 military and civilians each year.

Fort Leonard Wood is home to the U.S Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and three U.S. Army schools: the U.S. Army Engineer School; U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School; and the U.S. Army Military Police School. In addition to training engineer, CBRN and military police specialties for the Army, Fort Leonard Wood also provides gender-integrated in-processing and Basic Combat Training for new Soldiers.

Fort Leonard Wood also hosts and trains with the largest Marine Corps Detachment and Air Force Squadron on any Army installation as well as a large Navy construction detachment.