Air Force Maj. Sean Gustafson, a member of the Thunderbirds team, speaks with Sonic Johnson after landing at Columbus Air Force Base in this 2010 Dispatch file photo. Johnson, a retired lieutenant colonel and training pilot, was public affairs director for the 14th Flying Training Wing at CAFB for almost 15 years. He will officially retire on Jan. 25. Photo by: Dispatch file photo
January 18, 2019 10:22:35 AM
When Richard Johnson assumed the role of public affairs director for the 14th Flying Wing at Columbus Air Force Base, even his nickname seemed to make him a unique fit for the job.
For almost 15 years, Johnson -- known by airmen and community members alike as "Sonic" -- used his credentials as a training pilot and his passion for sharing the story of CAFB with the community.
Now, at age 60, the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, will retire one more time, this time for good.
"I have no plans, other than to rest and enjoy time with my wife," Johnson said. "We were married on a Friday and I went to pilot school on the next Monday. She's been my wing commander at home ever since."
The Johnsons have been married since 1981.
Johnson's official retirement date is Jan. 25, 14 years and 11 months after he took the civilian job and 19 years after he arrived at CAFB as a T1 trainer pilot.
That experience, Johnson said, made his new role something far more meaningful than a paycheck.
"I understood training pilots," Johnson said. "I spent 22 years working every day with airmen. I understood their needs, their mission. Being a spokesman for a mission that I understood and loved was a privilege."
In his role, Johnson came to be considered as the face of CAFB, working with media and the community as a the base's primary liaison.
Lynn Robinson, who has long been a member of the Columbus-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee, said it was Johnson's enthusiasm that convinced him to join the committee.
"When I joined the chamber, they gave me a list of committees," said Robinson, who had no military background. "Sonic was one of the reasons I wanted to get involved. He took the job seriously. For him it was personal. For a lot of people, it would have been easy to just meet the minimum requirements of the job. But Sonic did so much more than public affairs. He went far above and beyond in everything and his passion for the base and for the community, it really rubbed off. He was excited about what was happening at the base. It made everyone else excited, too."
Johnson said serving as a go-between between the base and the media was never difficult, even when the media's requests did not always align with what the base could provide.
"It never really was a problem," Johnson said. "One of my guiding principles was always be transparent. I never compromised anything about myself or the Air Force. Whether it was crashes or tragedies or the good things that happened, my relationship with the media was always good. I enjoyed it."
Christina Conwill, who has worked with Johnson for the previous two years, will take over as interim public affairs director until a permanent director is selected.
"It's a civilian position, but the wing commander has a lot of influence with what happens in the position," Johnson said.
Johnson said his decision to retire was pretty simple.
"I was tired," he said. "I gave it my all, 24/7 and 365. I just want to rest."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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