By Kathy Jefcoats
Not much is more American than red, white and blue, hot dogs and apple pie, and a soldier heading off to war.
The Encompass Group in McDonough featured all three Thursday as some 200 patriotically-clad employees downed frankfurters and bid farewell to one of their own. Army reservist Gen. Bil Johnson has worked for the company for 28 years but leaves today to fulfill his military obligations to his country for the next year in Kuwait.
"This time next week I'll be in the desert," said Johnson, who wore his desert fatigues on his last day at work. "I'm excited. I've been in the reserves for 32 years and this is the culmination point for me. I have the experience and it is time for me to use it and go do this job."
Johnson, 54, lives in Morrow with his wife. Their two children are grown.
"My wife is very supportive and has been during my career," he said, most recently last January when he was mobilized for six months.
His wife is just one of many who feel Johnson's loss. The Encompass Group must make provisions to fill in for Johnson, who is the managing director for purchasing and sourcing. Mike Spurlock, president of the textiles and interior division, is a former reservist and can relate to Johnson's responsibilities.
"He's going to be based in the heat of what's happening over there so we have a higher level of concern for his welfare," said Spurlock. "But he's trained for it and there are a lot of other people doing it too. I'm sure he'll do a good job and come home safely."
Because of Johnson's reserve status, Encompass has had to shuffle things around for him before. In return, Johnson has nominated the company several times for awards because of its support.
"Encompass has had to make arrangements to support me and make sure my job is available when I get back," he said.
In support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Johnson will be working for the 3rd Army as director of distribution and movements for the Coalition Land Forces Commander. That all means that he will be managing transportation of trucks and convoys.
"Well, we're at war and there is a danger to the convoys," he said. "We have measures to protect them as best as we can."
As workers lined up to make a lunch plate from hot dogs and chips catered by the appropriately-titled Uncle Sam's, Johnson walked up and down, sharing hugs and pleasantries. Every once in a while an employee would tell him about having a relative "over there."
In fact, Army Reserves make up about 20 percent of the Army's organized units, half the Army's combat support and a quarter of the Army's mobilization base expansion capability n all for about 5.3 percent of the Army's budget.
"The reserves just make good business sense for the country," said Johnson.
Johnson promised to keep in touch by e-mail, allowing his coworkers to follow his progress.