Price Johnson always was intrigued by the military. Plans for life after high school — which would begin after he graduated from Verrado High School this May — had yet to be cemented.
It was only August of 2018 at this point — several weeks into the school year — when Johnson’s interest in the military heightened.
An Air Force Academy alumnus ventured out to Verrado High School to speak to several students who were toying with the idea of joining a military academy. Johnson was one of them, though this was the first time he had learned what a military academy was and all the opportunities that came with it.
And his intrigue spiked.
“The thing is,” Johnson said, “not a lot of people know about what service academies do, so I went home and researched, talked to my parents about it. One thing I had always talked about was the military in general, but then I found out the academy was a way to really get a superior edge in my career path and in my life.”
The Air Force Academy, located in Colorado Springs, is “both a military organization and a university,” according to its website. It’s one of five U.S. service academies.
“The mission of the United States Air Force Academy is to educate, train and inspire men and women to become leaders of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation,” per its website.
Johnson applied to the U.S. Air Force Academy and, months later, was admitted. He officially signed his commitment to the academy in early June.
The path to get there was a lengthy, exhausting process.
He first needed to receive a congressional nomination from an Arizona representative. He then had to interview for a spot in front of four military academy alumni, given a series of challenging, thought-provoking questions in Prescott. He also had to be in good academic standing — the academy requires around a 3.9, Johnson graduated with an unweighted 4.0 — as well as top-notch physical condition.
Johnson had to pass a physical test that included pull-ups, push-ups and a mile run. He also needed to prove his possessed strong leadership and communicative skills, in which he cited his membership to both the National Honor Society and student government at Verrado.
“It took me a good three, four months to get everything done,” he said.
As if the application process wasn’t strenuous enough, Johnson initially heard back from the academy in early spring and was informed he had not been selected. A disappointing development, he slowly began to concede to the fact that perhaps the academy wasn’t meant to be.
But he still clutched on to the hope that it was, even after he applied and was accepted to Arizona State University.
In early June, however, the academy reached back out to Johnson. He had planned to be at ASU in the fall, with classes already selected and a roommate picked. But a spot had opened up for him in Colorado Springs, and the academy inquired Johnson about his interest in still attending. He only had a handful of days to make this decision.
He deemed this final opportunity was too strong an offer to pass up. He accepted their offer days later.
He packed his bags and left for Colorado Springs, basic training and his new life on June 23. His first day of the five-and-a-half-week basic training process begins on June 27.
The last three years at Verrado, Johnson was a member of the varsity soccer team as a defenseman. He played in 43 career games, a centerpiece in getting the Vipers to the postseason the previous two seasons. He was named to the 5A Desert West Region All-Region First Team this season. He also netted Verrado’s 2019 Most Outstanding Player Award.
Johnson also compiled a two-year stint on the varsity tennis team his last two years of high school.
At the Air Force Academy, Johnson will major in computer science. By furthering his education in the academy, he believes he’ll gain a competitive edge over others in his career field.
“I hope to be coming out of this with the amount of discipline, respect, responsibility — just a whole new look on life; a whole new way of living my life based on the standards I’d have learned at the academy,” he said.
Coupled with gaining an advantage by studying at the Air Force Academy, Johnson also believes he received an edge over others by growing up in Verrado. It’s a smaller town, which made it more difficult to receive a congressional nomination. Students who attended high schools in larger cities have easier access to a congressional representative, he said, so it was instilled in him that he must work twice as hard as someone with similar aspirations in a neighboring town.
Because of his commitment, Johnson is required to put in five years of service in the academy following his graduation from the university. He can choose to be done entirely after those five years. If he chooses to stay in the service for another 20 years, however, he’ll receive full retirement, he said.
“My end goal is to work at a government agency and I thought this would be one of the best ways to get there,” he said.
Johnson’s first trip home is slated for Thanksgiving break, the first opportunity he’ll have to return home to see family and friends. Aside from that, he’s mostly looking forward to the career opportunities the academy will present, and the person it’ll likely mold him into.
“I’m looking forward to just seeing where I go in life. It’s something new, for sure.”