SOMEWHERE IN THE IRAQI DESERT – Staff Sgt. Brooks Johnson sleeps in the desert sand with no tent. He's yet to get his own Humvee or helicopter.
Still, the soldier gets some unique teasing about his father: U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota.
"If it wasn't that, there would be something else," said Johnson, 31, squinting through his dust-covered spectacles outside the operations tent at the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division. "I'm an easy target."
Other members of Congress have children serving in the armed forces, but the Democratic senator said last week that his son may be the only one now in Iraq.
"I always wanted to serve my country in some way. I never really wanted to be involved in politics," the younger Johnson said. "For me, the military was the natural road to take."
During seven years in the Army, Johnson spent time in Kosovo, Bosnia, Germany and Afghanistan before coming to Iraq. He said he plans to leave the service when his tour ends in 2006 to finish college and pursue a master's degree in literature.
"I think it would be better for society if we had more people from a certain socio-economic strata that chose military service -- if not for a career, for a couple of years," he said. "But I think there's a lot of people that view things like military service -- while they might think that it's essential to the nation -- beneath their own abilities and talents."
A former high school football player, Johnson works in the brigade operations section, helping develop attack plans.
Maj. Odie Sheffield, operations officer for the brigade, said he didn't know Johnson's father was in the Senate until the two had a friendly but heated political conversation and he jokingly asked, "What are you, a senator's son?"
Johnson said that like many other soldiers, he asked his parents to send things like baby wipes, ramen noodles and socks to the war front. Since his deployment a few weeks ago, his only communication with them has been a couple of e-mails and a phone message left on their machine.
He and his father discuss his military experience frequently, but Johnson said his father doesn't ask him about defense appropriation or whether he should vote to give President Bush authority to go to war against Iraq. The senator supported the resolution authorizing force last October.