Keesler member retires with 33 years of federal service

  • Published
  • By Susan Griggs
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
CJ Johnson has said a lot of things in more than 33 years of federal service, but one thing she's never said is, "That's not my job."

Johnson, who retires from federal service June 1, is the 81st Training Wing executive assistant, but has never been limited by a formal position description. If the need is there, so is Johnson.

The Biloxi native began her Air Force journey as a military spouse following her husband, Glenn, to assignments in England, Spain, New Jersey, Alabama and California. She began working for the government in 1979 as a clerk typist and secretary/stenographer at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J. She served in clerical positions as a tuition assistance registrar, an investigative assistant with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and an equal employment office counselor.

In her 19 years at Keesler, Johnson said she's gained a wealth of knowledge in adapting to the climate of personality changes and leadership directions in the wing command section.

"Every time there was a new commander, it was important to keep an open mind and be ready to press forward with the vision of new leadership," she explained. "I think the most important attributes I brought to the job were being genuine, level-headed and focused on the situations and issues at hand."

Johnson has enjoyed working with a wide array of individuals, from senior leaders and distinguished visitors, to civilians across the base and in the community, to the newest Airmen at Keesler for training.

"Anyone who has worked with CJ knows you only talk to her after her first cup of coffee," said Sam Foster, former director of the wing staff who now serves as information protection chief. "I had to make sure the coffee was ready before she got to work."

Johnson said the two most memorable events during her years in the wing command
section were the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina's strike on Keesler nearly eight years ago. She stepped in as a command post augmentee to help coordinate hurricane relief efforts and escorted first lady Laura Bush to a Biloxi Salvation Army event in Katrina's aftermath.

For Johnson, the most difficult part of her job has been handling calls from disgruntled people with complaints for the base commander.

"The wing commander's number is the last number people call when they feel they can't resolve the problem elsewhere," Foster pointed out. "CJ got calls ranging from the air hose at the shoppette not working to getting stuck trying to get through the gate during an exercise. She was very professional in handling them all."

"I found that most callers really needed a sounding board, so those days I put on my really thick skin," Johnson remarked.

Jerry Taranto, deputy director of public affairs, described Johnson as "classy, yet down to earth. She is one of the most unpretentious women I've ever met. She doesn't like people who put on airs and she'll call them out in a minute, but she's never unkind. She pokes fun in a good-natured way and laughs at herself, too.

"Just watching her answer the phone at wing headquarters is high theatrics," he continued. "She throws off the best eye-rolls ever, and always ends her calls with 'You be blessed now!'"

Michele Rivera, 81st TRW protocol office, has worked with Johnson for nearly 13 years and describes her as a true team player who pitches in and helps wherever she's needed, particularly during visits from distinguished guests.

"CJ is a friend who always has your back," Rivera stated. "With CJ, 'wingman' isn't just a word -- it's a vital part of who she is."

Rivera also noted that Johnson was an original member of the Keesler Soul Choir, the Air Force's first gospel service, and helped organize special gospel music programs during Black History Month. She played intramural and varsity softball on base for five years, later volunteering as a coach and umpire.

Annie Davison, director of the wing's equal opportunity and alternate dispute resolution programs, said Johnson mentored her on rank structure, customs and courtesies and situations that could lead to political landmines.

"Sometimes I thought we'd lose our jobs just from laughing so hard," Davison remarked. "For a while, I had to be CJ's seeing-eye person, GPS and human remote control. She told me to wait until I turned 40 and I'd know what she was going through, and sure enough, I needed glasses, forgot where I was going and someone had to find the things I misplaced.

"She's the icon of the headquarters building, a lady, mentor and friend," Davison added.
Professionalism aside, Johnson's wicked sense of humor is legendary among her coworkers.

"When you work with CJ, you have to stay on your toes," Foster admitted. "One April Fools' Day, she interrupted me in a meeting and handed me a sticky note to call General Flowers right away on his cell phone. Yes, the number was to a flower shop, and yes, I called and asked for General Flowers."

Melva Kroll, the vice commander's assistant, is moving up to work for the commander.
"I know I have big shoes to fill," Kroll said. "CJ has been a friend, mentor and religious adviser. She's been grooming me for this job since my first day. I adore her and will miss her every day, but I do have her cell number and I won't hesitate to use it."

Retirement is going to be a busy time for Johnson, as she joins her husband in fulltime ministry at the Family of Faith Christian Church in Biloxi's Woolmarket community. Her husband is also retired with 44 years of combined military and civilian service.

"I'm grateful for the honor and privilege to work side by side with Team Keesler members, to be part of the wheel that makes things happen with integrity, service before self and excellence in all we do," she said.