Cloquet native Brig. Gen. Johnston pins on first star

(Reprinted from the "Kaiserslautern American" by special permission.) by Capt. Erin Dorrance Lt. Gen. Rod Bishop, commander, Air Command Europe, presided over a ceremony recently at the Ramstein Officers' Club where Cloquet native Col. Rich Johns...

(Reprinted from the "Kaiserslautern American" by special permission.)

by Capt. Erin Dorrance

Lt. Gen. Rod Bishop, commander, Air Command Europe, presided over a ceremony recently at the Ramstein Officers' Club where Cloquet native Col. Rich Johnston, KMC and 86th Airlift Wing commander, received a promotion to the rank of brigadier general.

"It is not every day we promote someone to the rank of general in the U.S. Air Force," General Bishop said. "In fact, it is probably more difficult to make general in today's Air Force than ever before. Out of every 100 lieutenants, only three make colonel. And out of every 100 colonels, only three make general."

Brig. General Johnston leads a wing composed of four groups, 14 squadrons and one detachment. The wing's primary mission is to conduct airlift, airdrop and aeromedical evacuation operations flying the C-21, C20H, C-40B and C-130E aircraft. He has a dual role as a wing and KMC commander, which is composed of the largest American community outside the U. S. The KMC includes more than 53,000 personnel living and working on five separate military installations including Ramstein, Sembach, Vogelweh, Einsiedlerhof and Kapaun.


General Bishop acknowledged General Johnston's accomplishments and responsibilities.

"Ramstein is a better place because you and Terry (General Johnston's wife) are here," he said.

Following is a series of questions and answers from a conversation with Gen. Johnston:

Q. Who are your family members?

A. My wife, Terry; our daughter, Jennifer; my parents, Lyle and Regina Armella Johnson; and my mother-in-law, Sylvia Randall.

Q. What did you think you were going to do with your life when you were 13 years old?

A. I was just happy playing baseball, football and hockey whenever I had a chance.

Q. Why did you choose the military, and specifically the Air Force?


A. I come from a military family dating back to at least the Civil War. My great-grandfather served in the Civil War, my grandfather served in World War I, my father served in the Army in World War II, my oldest brother was active-duty for four years and retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Army reserves and my second-oldest brother was active-duty Army for four years. I wanted to join the service because of the values and sense of duty my father gave me. I decided to join the Air Force so I could fly, see the world, and serve our country.

Q. Do you have any stories to share from officer training school?

A. I went to OTS as a young college graduate and was placed with a roommate that was quite a bit older than me - a senior master sergeant named Andy. He was a former Thunderbird maintainer and was the most professional and sharpest person I had seen in the military. I learned a lot from him, especially about the importance of complimenting people in public and correcting or punishing them in private - a lesson I follow to this day.

Q. What did you learn from being an executive officer to the U.S. Transportation Command commander?

A. Being around USTRANSCOM, I learned a lot about our sister services, specifically the Army and Navy and their role in logistic operations (transporting personnel and cargo). During my time there as an executive officer, it was reinforced how important it is to be a good listener and how essential time management is in any job.

Q. Do you have any advice for an enlisted troop who wants to get commissioned?

A. First, do the very best job you can in the job you are currently doing. Half of our enlisted force is the rank of staff sergeant and below. We could not accomplish our mission without the incredibly sharp leaders, mentors and supervisors that we have at these levels. Secondly, don't accept "no" until you have exhausted all avenues of commissioning. If I would have listened to the first few people I talked to I would not be here today.

Q. Was there a specific supervisor that helped you reach your goals?


A. I have been fortunate to have worked with many outstanding Airmen, NCOs, and officers. To single anyone out would be unfair.

Q. Wing commanders don't have much free time, but when you do get some, what do you enjoy doing?

A. I enjoy spending time with my family, friends and my yellow Lab, Lucy. I also read biographies whenever I have a chance. I just finished reading a biography on Benjamin Franklin.

Q. Is there something that Airmen would be surprised to know about you?

A. After graduating from college, I was a guard at a federal prison in Wisconsin. I was armed with only a radio and my common sense. Shortly after that job, I joined the Air Force.

Q. With the transformation changes our U.S. Air Force is experiencing, how do you see the KMC and 86th Airlift Wing being affected?

A. I believe we will see positive changes and actually already have. The Lean and Air Force Smart Operations 21st Century programs have improved the efficiency and effectiveness of how we do business. Young Airmen have been empowered to make recommendations; we have listened to them and made changes.

Q. With more than 4,300 flying hours, do you have any flying stories you'd like to share?


A. My first assignment out of C-130 school was flying the WC-130 into typhoons in the Pacific. I remember flying into Typhoon Wayne in 1983. The storm was at the highest strength for a typhoon. There was so much turbulence that I couldn't read the instruments, and the wings of the plane were flexing extensively. I was happy when we got into the center of the storm because it was clear and calm. But, we had to go back through the eye wall three more times. It was obviously a memorable and important mission. The typhoon was close to the Philippines and moving north towards Okinawa. Our meteorological radio broadcasts were made so that anyone who could pick up HF transmissions was able to have up-to-date information. Clearly, lives were saved from the information we provided.

Q. You have flown during deployments support Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Kosovo, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Do you have any deployed flying stories you would like to share?

A. The sense of mission and camaraderie while deployed is very special. I have flown and participated in several important missions while deployed. I am very impressed by our Airmen flying personnel and cargo every day, thereby reducing the number of convoys on the road. Additionally, our Airmen have participated significantly as drivers and gunners in those ground convoys.

Q. What is one of the biggest differences between when you joined and today's Air Force?

A. When I joined, a two-to-three-month deployment every 14 months was standard. In the past 17 years, the frequency of deployments is much greater. Our Airmen clearly understand the importance of the Global War on Terrorism. They are battle tested and we have asked each of them to be prepared to operate at the next higher level and they are doing magnificently. I am proud to serve alongside them.

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