WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Ever since he could remember, Keith Johnson has dreamed of seeing the world. A bright student, he graduated high school a year early, the same year his older sister did.

Having parents who didn’t anticipate sending two children to college simultaneously, Johnson decided the Air Force would be the perfect fit for him.

“They gave me that opportunity to see, to not only see the world, but you know, serve our country at the same time,” Johnson said.

By age 19, Johnson was serving as a security police specialist and working with some of the highest assets in the Air Force.

“I went straight to a nuclear base, so I was responsible for Priority A, B & C resources,” Johnson said. “You would load up on a bus, and they’d take you out to either a weapons storage area, where you’d be responsible for securing those systems out there, or out to the flight line, where you’d be directly responsible for aircraft systems.”

As part of his daily routine, Johnson would carefully check aircrew members before flights and would guard landing strips long before planes even returned to base.

“That area had to be secured before the assets could, could come back or return,” Johnson said. “Didn’t care if a tornado had come through, didn’t care if the world caught fire, nothing was to happen to those resources, those assets.”

Johnson himself would go through one of the worst natural disasters in the 20th century while serving abroad.

Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines. It destroyed two major U.S. installations: Clark Air Base, which is where I was stationed, and Subic Bay, which was a naval facility,” Johnson said.

While there were no military fatalities, 800 people were killed, while an estimated 100,000 lost their homes.

Johnson stayed behind to evacuate families before the biggest of the explosions from the overall eruption.

“[To] see ash falling from the sky as though it were snow…being told ‘Okay, all clear, come back,’ just for the volcano to erupt again, so we run back out again, so, that part was a little exciting, a bit nerve-wracking,” Johnson said.

After his time in the Philippines, Johnson served a series of many short TYD (temporary duty travel) missions. His special skills would eventually take him to Panama, where he would inspect incoming aircraft for illegal drugs.

“At the time, you know, a lot of things were coming through Colombia, through Central America into the U.S., and we were like the first choke point, stop point, where we could try to catch a lot of that before it ever got close to the U.S. border,” Johnson said.

Johnson would make two large confiscations while in Panama: the larger of the two was given an estimated street value of $1 million.

“You could see firsthand the, an impact up close and personal what you were doing and how it was affecting, or how it would affect people down the line,” Johnson said. “If we did our job and did it right the first time if we caught the things we were supposed to catch, who knows how many lives we were saving?”

After serving in 13 different countries, Johnson would finish out his military career a little closer to home at McConnell Air Force Base. After 21 years in the military, Johnson retired a Master Sergeant E-7.

If you would like to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at hannah.adamson@ksn.com.