Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Johnson, USAF Commander at 22 Wing CFB North Bay stands beside the Yukla 27 monument reflecting on the recent Armed Forces Day celebrations held at the North Bay Waterfront.
With both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and American Ambassador David Jacobson in North Bay to mark Armed Forces Day and the 60th anniversary of USAF at 22 Wing CFB North Bay, Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Johnson, 1 Air Force Detachment 2 Commander United States Air Force (USAF) had his hands full leading his troops in the parade.
Johnson, who marched with 33 members of the USAF at the Armed Forces Day held at the waterfront on Friday, June 1st, says looking back on the event he is grateful to have been part of it.
“It’s very rare to see in the US communities, like you say, to actually get into a formation and march right through the middle of town. And just get to show your colours and show what it’s about and allow people to provide their appreciation for it.”
“Now, it’s done at the local communities, but here at North Bay it’s absolutely unique to itself I’ve never seen it like it, done to that degree it is outstanding,” he says of Armed Forces Day.
“We got to march through downtown North Bay, there was just a sea of red as we went through and this where I learned about the significance of the red shirts and shown an appreciation for the troops … people really came out for it even with the weather the way it was I was just pleased and proud to get to just there and march through town and see that support was outstanding.”
Johnson’s detachment is responsible for providing operational resources, aerospace surveillance and control, attack warning and assessment, counter-drug operations and damage-limiting operations in defence of North America.
They also provide the centralized control of aerospace resources for all of Canada and identify 100 percent of aircraft movements into Canada. Concurrently, the detachment ensures bi-national forces are trained, equipped, and prepared for air sovereignty of Canada and carries out national policies as directed support members assigned to the unit Orderly Room provide section administration, finance, personnel, transportation, medical and host of other required support function to US personnel and their families assigned to North Bay .
Operations and maintenance members assigned to 22 Wing integrate with Canadian Forces in the David L. Pitcher building of the Canadian Air Defence Sector (CADS), working myriad positions within the 22 Wing Director of Support, 21 Aerospace Control and Warning Squadron , and 51 Aerospace Control and Warning (Operational Training) Squadron.
The Lieutenant-Colonel says participating in events like Armed Forces Day with Ambassador Jacobson in attendance serves notice that the military partnership between Canada and the United States has been solid for 60 years and will remain that way.
“The main thing that we discussed was the fact that we have been here for sixty years. A lot of people don’t know the fact that the United States Air Force here at CFB North Bay have been here in one way, shape or form since 1952.”
“It was 9 January, 1952 when the first Americans showed up and their role was to actually be instructor fighter pilots for the interceptive mission that was occurring at the time.”
“We’ve had the surface to air missile program that was here with the BOMARCs and then followed on with the development of NORAD, which we have been maintaining ever since. So for 60 years we have been here in one way, shape or form and it’s just been a -- I’m sure it’s going to be for the next 60 years we’re going to show just how strong that relationship truly is.”
Johnson notes a key responsibility of the American Ambassador to Canada is to report back to the White House.
“That’s one of his responsibilities that he had mentioned is to just give the President a sense of what is going on in the country and I have full faith in him that his visit today gave him an impression, and a very positive impression, of how we work here on an integrated fashion.”
Johnson, who is enjoying his third posting to Canada, says his relationship with the Canadian military truly began on September 22nd, 1995 in Alaska. That was the tragic day that saw the United States and Canadian Air Forces lose personnel including Sergeant David L. Pitcher in catastrophic aircraft crash.
Just after takeoff from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska at about 7:45 am the U.S. E-3 aircraft engine ingested a number of Canadian Geese and went down in a heavily wooded area two miles northeast of the runway.
“Yukla 2-7 I was in that unit in 1995, that was actually my first time serving with Canadians …it is a bit difficult because when Yukla 27 crashed I was there on that day to witness it and it brought me a lot closer to the Canadians that were in that unit.”
“And ever since then if I had an opportunity to serve with the Canadians I jumped on it at every opportunity.”
“It’s also an opportunity for me to always thank Canada for what they have done for us and for me to just pay back for the services … and in this case the significant sacrifice that was made.”
He says the Yukla crash has had a significant and lasting personal effect on him as the unit was small enough that everyone on the crew that day was a friend, co-workers or acquaintance.
“The very first day that I showed here in North Bay, I noticed that the building was named after Sergeant David L. Pitcher and it was then that I then tied it all together because it had been a name that I had not heard in a very long time. And that is when I noticed this memorial.”
“That really hit home for me and I’m actually pretty happy to see it here.”
Johnson says the way he moved past that tragic event and any others that befall his military colleagues is to remind him that the duties carried out by USAF and Canadian military members serve an important purpose.
“I ask myself every day are the things that I am doing in the service of my country going to bring honour to what these fine men and women have stood for.”
“That’s the only thing I can do is just take that and look at what they represented to me, what they were standing for, what they were trying to day and try to carry that forward.”
He notes each year on September 22nd at 7:45am the base observes a moment of silence in honour of the Yukla 2-7 crew.
As for the role of USAF in North Bay he says it will continue to flourish.
“We will continue in this integrated fashion, the relationship here is just as strong as ever.”