SDI Graduate Feature: Billy Dwayne Johnson, Veteran and Weapons Instructor

  • Joey Upper

Billy Dwayne Johnson found Sonoran Desert Institute at a point in his career to which many in the firearms technology field only aspire: a veteran of the United States Army and a weapons instructor for the United States Navy. 

“I am a weapons instructor for a Navy course – I am a civilian contractor,” he said of himself in our interview. 

He was more than qualified, thanks in part to an extremely varied career in the Army. 

“I did a few different things,” he said of his time in the service. “The first part of my career, I was an infantryman. Then I did long-range surveillance, which is kind of a special subset of infantry. You work in a six-man team and go out into enemy territory and basically find key locations that (the enemy soldiers) are using, troop movements, all that kind of stuff, and then report that information back, and they plan future operations based off of that. After that, I did logistics for a while.” 

After he left the military, he eventually made the move to his work within civilian contracting.

“I’ve always been interested in guns, and started kind of tinkering with my own guns about 10 years ago. … The interest was already there, and I found out about the job that I have now through a friend of mine. We obviously teach Navy personnel since I work for the Navy. The course covers a lot of stuff. Everything from medical to land navigation, to both pistol and rifle marksmanship and combat shooting.”

Like a true craftsman, he was always looking for ways to make himself better at his trade. 

“I had some friends that I work with that enrolled in the program before I did,” he said, and found that the education might be able to help him perform his job better. Johnson went on to earn his Associate of Science in Firearms Technology, graduating in October of 2019. 

 “I have to say that my favorite course was the advanced 1911 armorer’s course,” he recalled, thinking of his time with SDI. 

“I have built three AR-15s before, and I enjoy doing that, but they were all completed lowers. The 1911 – I chose that because, one, the 1911, with having to hand-fit parts and everything, the way I looked at it, I wanted to do something I hadn’t done before, and I do enjoy shooting rifles … but I really enjoyed shooting and working on pistols. I figured if I could pick that (course) and with that one, having to do the hand fitting on parts and everything – that translates into a lot of other firearms. … The 1911 is a little more challenging, and that’s why I picked it.”

While Johnson previously worked more hands on with the firearms aspect and utilized his education with SDI every day, he has found that even working with this late-stage training that he is now responsible for teaching, he is having to navigate malfunction checks with Simunition, along with other day-to-day issues. That ensures that his education is being put to use!

“The phase (of training) that I’m working in now … we’re teaching (students) about the proper use of judgment, use of force, and putting them through different scenarios on a simulator as well as with what they call Simunitions, which is kind of like paintball but with real guns,” he said. “We have a lot of teaching points with that. Whether or not they’re using good tactics as well as their judgment, and any kind of threat indicators that they should have picked up on and didn’t. All things to prepare them if they ever have a deadly force encounter.”

Johnson is helping the sailors of tomorrow operate as judiciously and effectively as possible with training that could very well save lives down the road. We’re honored to have been a part of his firearms career. 

To those considering becoming a student with SDI, Johnson had this advice to share: 

“I would definitely advise (prospective and current students) to pay attention to time management, both on the written assignments as well as the practical assignments, but probably more so on the practical assignments. I found that if I waited too late in the week to start that week’s projects I got into a crunch time towards the deadline.”

With an instructor whose daily job involves the expert use of judgment, it’s often best to take heed of his advice. 

Johnson’s firearms future is being carved out, day-by-day, through a combination of his military, academic, and occupational experience. We’re thrilled to have been just a small part of his journey.

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