Written by Lt. James Okorn
Just as lake effect snow and northern Michigan are one, so are U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary aviation and Jim Johnson. A member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary since 2001, Mr. Johnson currently serves as the assistant 9th District staff officer for aviation and the auxiliary air coordinator for the 9th District central region.
Since taking over his leadership roles in 2008, Mr. Johnson has managed a team of 59 aircrew men and women as well as 17 aircraft. He has been able to leverage these assets with a meager $45 thousand annual operating budget into 3,200 auxiliary flight hours. What’s the impact of such a robust aviation program? More than $27 million of MH-65 Dolphin helicopter cost savings.
Mr. Johnson is no newcomer to service or managing funds and people. Prior to joining the Coast Guard Auxiliary, he served in the U.S. Navy Reserve from 1959 to 1994, retiring as a Captain. In the U.S. Navy, he garnered managerial skills in the Supply Corps which would prove useful in his current life. Working alongside Coast Guard active duty members, one of Mr. Johnson’s highest priorities is ensuring proper personal protective equipment or PPE is inspected, worn and onboard every auxiliary aircraft. Last winter, air temperatures including wind chill touched negative 55 degrees in parts of Michigan and more than 92 percent of the Great Lakes froze over. When this is the climate you fly in, you want someone like Mr. Johnson in charge of outfitting your aircrews with flight gear.
Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City Commanding Officer, Capt. Sean Cross commented, “Knowing Jim Johnson is at the helm of our Auxiliary program makes it easy to sleep at night, he is constantly involved, mentoring our auxiliary liaisons and providing continuity.”
However, Mr. Johnson does not just handle dry suits and rafts, he also handles the controls. Since 2008 he has flown 790 hours at the yoke of his Cessna 172, of which he is a partial owner. Just as reliable as the day it came off the line (1000th one assembled) in 1956; the N6900A is flown by two other auxiliary pilots weekly in support of Coast Guard missions.
Flying shoreline patrols off the coast of seven major port cities, Mr. Johnson and the rest of the 9th District Air Auxiliary routinely respond to everything from maritime environmental protection cases to ice patrols to logistical parts runs to get an MH-65D back in the air when it needs support away from home station. The route a freighter from Duluth, Minnesota will take to the St. Lawrence Seaway is patrolled and reported on by these volunteers.
This is the task Mr. Johnson says he finds most rewarding: “the flying has its perks, but being a part of the larger mission with an attainable goal has kept me engaged.”
Mr. Johnson has been married for 51 years to his wife, Ann. They have two children and four grandchildren. For his hard work, Mr. Johnson was awarded with the Coast Guard Auxiliary Commendation Medal this past December. The men and women of Air Station Traverse City and 9th District would like to say thank you to Mr. Jim Johnson and his family for their dedication over the past 14 years.