Reservist

ISS2 2018

Reservist Magazine is the award-winning official publication of the United States Coast Guard Reserve. Quarterly issues include news and feature articles about the men and women who comprise America's premier national maritime safety and security

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Eric Johnson had been a year into his new job as a Connecticut state trooper when, one night, a fellow trooper asked if he would take over for him at a wreck. "Can you handle this for me? I've got to drill," Johnson remembered him saying. Even though he was a former first class petty officer with seven years of Coast Guard active duty under his belt, it was the first time he'd ever heard the word "drill." The trooper, a reserve senior chief, thanked Johnson over a cup of coffee the next morning and shared his experience as a Coast Guard Station New London, Conn., reservist. Johnson soon found himself reenlisted, this time, in the Coast Guard Reserve. Within a few months of signing up, Johnson was on a flight to Desert Storm with Port Security Unit 301, starting a second career in the Coast Guard and making countless friends and connections. While most of his time on active duty was spent underway, the Reserve took Johnson to small boat stations and port security units. Back then, Johnson said, the Reserve units operated like co-located commands, evidenced by the "nameplate switch." "The station's active duty commanding officer would take his nameplate with him as he headed out on Friday, and the reserve CO would show up with his nameplate and put it on the desk. For the weekend, he was the CO," said Johnson. He remembered a tour as a reservist at Aids to Navigation Team Redwood (co-located with Coast Guard Cutter Redwood) in New London, a rare experience for a guy used to carrying a sidearm every day. "It had nothing to do with guns or badges or being a cop, but it was fun," said Johnson with a smile. He spent his drill days doing electrical work and clearing brush, trading stories with other reservists. No matter what unit he was assigned to, Johnson found quality people, and his commands found a trustworthy, willing worker in their reservist. Back to active After two decades of service as a state trooper, Johnson retired in 2007 and began a second active duty career with the Coast Guard. He took a job in Sector San Juan as the command silver badge for three years, then moved to Headquarters where he served first as a senior enlisted reserve detailer, and later as a program reviewer at CG-8. When the call went out for applications to serve as the next Coast Guard Reserve Force Master Chief (the position's previous title) Johnson applied and was selected. His motivation was simple. "I wanted to reduce or even eliminate those road blocks that made it hard for reservists to drill," said Johnson. In his application, Johnson said the key to a strong Reserve was a strong chiefs mess. The chiefs mess is known throughout the service as a source of information, for those senior and those junior. It's the hub of operations and the lynchpin in smooth operations. Johnson said he knew that if he wanted to make things better for every reservist in the Coast Guard, the way to do it was by empowering the network of chiefs. Every month, for four years, Johnson made a personal phone call to every newly-advanced chief, senior chief and master chief, spending time talking with each individual. "These were one-way conversations," said Johnson, who opened the door for chiefs to call on him to help get problems solved. "I wanted to hear their stories and concerns." Making headway In his first three months, Johnson met more than a thousand reservists, listening to their concerns. The problem he heard over and over again was the difficulties of reasonable commuting distance, or RCD. Reservists aren't paid for their travel to and from units, and costs can add up, not to mention time away from civilian jobs and family obligations. Members wanted to stay and serve, though, and Johnson set his sights on eliminating this first major roadblock. He worked with RPM to massage the PCS process to add more flexibility to the reserve personnel allowance list at the E-6 and above levels where there are less billets available. Under Johnson's lead, the Reserve experienced a 45 percent reduction in members occupying billets outside RCD. Another area Johnson made changes to was increasing available senior enlisted billets, especially when he could ensure the billets were counterparts to the rating force master chiefs. (RFMC). These reserve program experts meshed with the RFMCs to help facilitate change and create understanding. Meeting regularly with Vice Adm. Charles Michel, Johnson became a voice for the reservists to those in the highest ranks. "It's getting harder and harder to drill," said Johnson, "but a part-time service person is an integral part of our nation's defense, more so now than any other time in history." His legacy, though, is the major change in aligning the active duty chiefs mess with the reserve chiefs mess. "I wanted to break the them and us mentality. I couldn't have done that without the support of the Master Chief Petty Officer of Master Chief Petty Officer Eric Johnson speaks with a reserve boatcrew member in Miami. Johnson met with thousands of reservists during his four-year tour as the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Reserve. Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jourdin M. Bego 16 RESERVIST � Issue 2 • 2018

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