On Fort Meade, Sydney Johns is more than a boss

The center of the military public affairs world is located on Fort Meade, Md., in a building called Defense Media Activity.  As the destination of frequent tour groups, the facility must be kept spotless. It falls to a small cleaning crew and its street-wise leader to complete this often thankless task.

As the sun sets on another hot Maryland summer day, Sydney Johns is checking on the progress of his four-person team. The daytime employees have all gone home, but for the nighttime cleaning crew, work is just beginning. The former correctional officer has supervised this group for five years, working closely to see that they succeed, and not just on the job.

“My time at the correctional facility taught me a few things,” Johns said. “I was able to bring some of that with me, to teach these young men and women how to succeed.”

Johns and his employees are staffed through Goodwill Industries International, and many of them have disabilities. Because of the unique makeup of this group, he’s taken on the extra titles of mentor and role model. Johns has made time to teach one of his floor techs, 29-year-old Morgan Brandford, important life skills.

“He was teaching me how to save your money,” Brandford said. “How to be responsible, you know, with your bills. He’s a really good person.”

As the night wears on, Johns switches between roles as they go about cleaning the building. He laughs easily with his people and guides them firmly to keep things on track. A simple motto sums up what they’re doing here.

“Just do the very very best you possibly can,” Johns said. “That’s all. Just care about what you do.”

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