Idaho Air Guard General retires after 37 years of service

  • Published
  • By Capt Tony Vincelli
  • 124 FW Public Affair
Former 124th Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Richard W. Johnson retired in July after more than 37 years of service.

Known to all as "RJon", the general guided the wing through arguably its most challenging period in its 60-plus year history. He leaves behind a lot of friends, memories and accomplishments.

General Johnson enlisted in the Idaho Air Guard in 1972 and spent most of his first six years in school completing two degrees and learning how to fly two aircraft: the F-102 Delta Dagger and the RF-4C Phantom. He also learned from people like Joe Bunderson, a pilot and mentor who told the brash young RJon after their flight together over the Owyhee Reservoir in which he performed barrel rolls and other acrobatic maneuvers, that he didn't have to prove anything to be a successful pilot.

"He taught me to take care of people so they don't go out and hurt themselves," the general said.

The general's 37-plus years were marked by what he calls "windows of opportunity" and "decision points". He worked as a Certified Public Accountant from 1978 to 1983, before taking an AGR position as an instructor pilot. He worked full-time in the Guard until 1994 and then returned to the Traditional force to fly for the airlines. A "decision point" came in 2001, when Brig. Gen. Sayler asked him to come aboard as the vice commander. The years that followed he refers to as the most hectic, yet most satisfying, of his career.

He took command of the wing in January 2004. In the four-plus years of his command, he guided the wing through a brutal inspection schedule, increasingly high operations tempo due to overseas and stateside contingencies like Operation Iraqi Freedom and Hurricane Katrina relief, and made key decisions that had a profound impact on the future of the 124th Wing. What puts these accomplishments into perspective is the fact that this assignment was General Johnson's first and only command.

"I never had a bad job in 37 years, but the high point had to be the ORI. It was so long in coming and everyone practiced so hard, it was great to see how everyone stepped up," he said.

The ORI in 2005 came on the heels of a two-year activation for the 189th Airlift Squadron and an Air Mobility Command readiness inspection of their own. It was also one of seven major inspections the wing completed from 2004-2008.

While commanding the wing, he volunteered for an assignment to command the 24th Air Expeditionary Group in Pakistan where he commanded a unit that delivered more than 2000 tons of humanitarian supplies after a devastating earthquake.

"It was always very hard for me to send people off to deploy. Since I would never be able to deploy with our unit, I had to go myself to know what I was sending my people to," he said.

General Johnson's first two years as commander were difficult, he admits. It took him until his third year to find his groove, he said.

In 2007, his decisions to upgrade the A-10 to the A+ modifications led to the Idaho Air Guard being the first unit to successfully deploy with the upgraded aircraft. It should have been impossible to get the upgrades done in time, the general said, but as always, the wing found a way to get it done.

His perspective as an A-10 pilot gave him the understanding of what the pilots were going through, and why the modifications were so important.

The general retires leaving behind a unit that is better, stronger, and more experienced. While he admits to missing the mission, he looks forward to supporting the troops in a different way.

"I'm looking forward to being an active volunteer and a retiree supporter out here and cheering everyone on," the general said.