Tinker Reservist harnesses personal strengths at Yellow Ribbon

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Lauren Kelly
  • 507th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs


Staff Sgt. Johnny Kheng, an air transportation specialist with the 72nd Aerial Port Squadron at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, attended his first Yellow Ribbon event Nov. 19-21, 2021, in Arlington, Virginia.

At the event, Kheng attended many presentations aimed at connecting Air Force Reserve deployers and their loved ones with resources to help them before, during and after deployments. The presentation that resonated the most with Kheng was called “Bring your strengths.”

“I didn’t really realize what my strengths were until I came here,” Kheng said.

He said he learned that individuals primarily have six different strengths.

“I discovered that three of my biggest strengths are gratitude, appreciation of appearance and excellence, and love.”

In July 2020, Kheng was tasked to deploy for six months in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel where his unit worked alongside active duty service members until January 2021.

“When we deployed in July, my girlfriend Lukal and I had only known each other for four months,” Kheng said. “Being apart for a six-month deployment during the COVID-19 pandemic was tough. Very tough. In terms of love, it taught me about trust and patience. Without those, our relationship wouldn’t have lasted.”

While deployed, with more than 20 other individuals from Tinker, Kheng said the team often worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week which eventually adjusted to having one or two days off toward the middle of the deployment.

“At the beginning of the deployment, my biggest stressor was just the unknown,” Kheng said. “I had never deployed before. It was my first time, and it was a different environment, a different job. I’ve never actually worked in this career field outside of training. I was one of the younger ones out there. I had to learn quickly because missions don’t stop, and planes have to fly.”

Kheng said he learned quickly how to be gracious and show gratitude for the little things while deployed away from his loved ones.

“I had to learn to enjoy the littlest things I had while I was there, from being with individuals that I’ve never met before, to individuals that I’ve worked with throughout the years being in the service. I’ve learned to take it day by day and appreciate everything that was happening around me, good and bad.”

Another stressor that Kheng encountered in addition to the new job and new relationship was his role as a full-time student. He earned a bachelor degree in business while he was deployed.

Reserve Airmen and their loved ones are encouraged to attend one Yellow Ribbon event before deploying and two events upon their return. Kheng was unable to attend his pre-deployment event but he plans on attending his second post-deployment event.

“It’s been really great, and I’ve met some really amazing people and have gotten the chance to hear their stories,” Kheng said.

Kheng grew up in Cambodia until the age of 13 when he and his family moved to the United States. He is now a citizen and travels from out of state to serve as a Reserve Airman at Tinker AFB every month.

“My girlfriend was the most supportive of everyone I know,” Kheng said. “She was there through the good and the bad throughout my deployment. We have a great relationship now and we’ve got big things coming up soon.”