Still, he has been threatened. As the veterans cleaned up alleys and rehabbed vacant homes — leaving fewer places for drug dealers and prostitutes to set up shop — they encountered resistance.
One woman said her boyfriend was "going to put a bullet in my head," Johnson says.
"They hope if they get rid of me, they get rid of Operation Oliver," he says. "If that happens, it's going to give more attention to Operation Oliver and more people are going to get involved."
He says the resistance has subsided as the neighborhood has improved. His wife, Zinitha, who once threatened to divorce him over conditions in the area, sees the place differently, he says.
"When we first moved in, my wife really didn't want to come out and associate with the neighborhood," Johnson says. "Now this neighborhood is no longer considered a bad neighborhood. This neighborhood is a good neighborhood that's going to be great. Me and my wife we go out, we sit out on our front porch, we read books, we chit-chat, our friends come over. We have fun outside. We cook out in front of our house. … It's becoming a really great neighborhood."
Gregory K. Davis, 54, remembers a better Oliver from years ago.
"When I was a kid, you used to be able to sit on your steps without anyone bothering you," says Davis, a self-employed handyman who has lived in the neighborhood all his life. He says the downturn came in the 1980s.
"As the years went by, the neighborhood got real messed up," he says. "The drug dealers ruined the neighborhood selling all the crack."
But Davis says he sees the area resurging, thanks to Johnson and his efforts.
"They need a lot more people like that," he says of the Operation Oliver volunteers. "The people in the neighborhood need to get with Earl and them. They look at them like they're crazy. They're doing it from their heart. The community has to support that."
The change is noticeable as one walks down Bond Street, home to rows of newly refurbished houses. The homes, all considered "green houses," come completely refurbished with high-end amenities such as whirlpool spas.
Nearby, about 15 Stevenson University students were cleaning out a lot that eventually will be an organic garden.
Colin Lyman, a Stevenson senior who is carrying debris to a dump site, calls the work some of the "most rewarding" he's done in college.
"It's the whole aspect of trying to rebuild this community, working with the veterans and working with the people from the community to really make this happen, that's what keeps me coming back," he says.
Throughout the year, the veterans have planned about 50 events — nearly one a week.
Jeremy Johnson says the project has become so popular that other neighborhoods are asking the veterans to adopt their community next.
"We tell them we're focused on one neighborhood at a time," he says.