Q&A with Ramstein’s newest General

Capt. Erin Dorrance
Kaiserslautern American

Editor’s note: Captain Dorrance
recently sat down with Brig. Gen. Rich Johnston, KMC and 86th Airlift
Wing commander, for a one-on-one interview to discuss his career,
hobbies and some flying stories.  

KA: Where are you from and where do you call home?
Cloquet, Minn.

KA: Who are your family members?
My wife, Terry; our daughter, Jennifer; my parents, Lyle and Regina Armella Johnston; and my mother-in-law Sylvia Randall.

KA: What did you think you were going to do with your life when you were thirteen years old?
I was just happy playing baseball, football and hockey whenever I had a chance.

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

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

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

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

KA: Was there a specific supervisor that helped you reach your goals?
I have been fortunate to have worked with many outstanding Airmen, NCOs, and officers. To single anyone out would be unfair.

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

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

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

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.

KA: With more than 4,300 flying hours, do you have any flying stories you’d like to share?
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.

KA: You have flown during deployments
supporting Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Kosovo, Operation Enduring
Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom: do you have any deployed flying
stories you would like to share?

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.

KA: What is one of the biggest differences between when you joined and today’s Air Force?
When I joined a two to three-month deployment every fourteen 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.