8428 DAVID BRUCE (DB) JOHNSON – Class Secretary – Class of 1971
David Johnson was born in December 1947 and raised in Lindsay, Ontario. He attended the Lindsay Collegiate and Vocational Institute (LCVI) when Ontario still had Grade 13.
We recently caught up with David who now resides in Creemore, ON located in Simcoe County. The very proud member of the Class of 1971, kindly shared memories going back to his first year arrival at RMC in 1966. He is candid in talking about his military college 5 year year experience; time as a pilot following graduation, what he did as acivil servant in Ottawa and finally his ‘golden’ years.
In his own words:
What was your main motivation towards applying to Milcol:
“When I was starting Grade 10, my mother initiated a serious conversation. She told me that she thought I wasn’t applying myself adequately and that I could do much better. As a result of that discussion, I promised her that I would go to University…somewhere. I will never know for sure; however, I think that was when she was diagnosed with cancer. Alas, my mother died from cancer in September 1965 – the year I started my Grade 13. (Aside: I wanted to go to Guelph to study entomology; however, given that my Dad had spent everything he had to cover my mother’s medical expenses, I had no financial support accessible to me.) Moving forward, in December of that year, I had a chat with my friend, Terry Cockerill (he graduated RMC1970), who had been involved in the Army Cadets. Terry told me that he was applying to RMC. My question to Terry was: ”WHAT is RMC?” When he told me that I could join the Canadian Armed Forces…GO TO COLLEGE, get room, board, uniforms etc. and be paid while most importantly fulfilling my promise to my mother, I went directly to the recruiting center in Peterborough and signed up. Based upon my High School record, I was accepted into the Royal Military College in Kingston before I had even written a single Grade 13 Final exam. I guess the fact that I was the top male achiever both academically and athletically in my 1966 High School graduating class influenced the prompt approval. I have never regretted my decision!!
When was your entry year?
I entered Royal Military College in 1966. I arrived in August to attend football camp. I was met at the Main Gate by Senior Cadet Rod Brooks who took me in hand and led me to the Stone Frigate where I would spend my rookie year.
#1: RUNNING: I loved to run! Give me “circles” as punishment ??? I loved it.
#2: HAZING: One evening, (I was in the Frigate) our Seniors tasked us to run to an address at Queens University; memorize the inscription on the plaque we would find there; return and recite. As it happened, when tasked individually by our Seniors to recite the inscription, we were informed that NONE OF US had included the punctuation. SOOO…..back again….only to discover that there was NO punctuation. That amounted to at least 6 miles of running just for the fun of it J I laugh now and I laughed then because it was so ludicrous!!! Not the same for my less athletically inclined fellow recruits. I just thought it was a lot of fun J
#3: CAUSE OF MANY WITHDRAWALS: At the end of physical activity in the mornings, showers were needed before going to breakfast or class. Therefore, in the interest of expediency, 10+ young men were compelled to jam into TWO shower stalls to “shower” NOW!!. Some of the amazing people who truly wanted to be a part of the CAF simply couldn’t accept the physical contact. They left!!
I entered the Royal Military College of Canada in 1966. In our first year, we were a bunch of young, boisterous teenagers. For the 1967 Spring mid-terms, 12 of us did not “PASS” our history exam. Professor Ernie Gilman called all of us “failures” into his office….TWELVE of us. He asked us if we thought we were going to pass our final exam. [Since you have initiated this conversation, I am going to be open and full disclosure.] In response to our collective “YES”, he told us that he was NOT going to pass us WHATEVER ! I studied my ass off throughout summer training to prepare for the supplemental exam….alas…Professor Gilman had the last word. Even though we applied to the RMC Registrar for a second opinion and reconsideration, Professor Gilman prevailed….none of the Dozen of us received a passing grade on our supplemental exam and were compelled to either repeat or leave. You might call this the Legend of the Dirty Dozen…and we still refer to ourselves as such with pride!
My Squadron Commander (unfortunately, despite my absolutely exceptional memory, I can’t remember his name), ASKED not RECOMMENDED that I stay because he thought I had the potential for being the kind of Officer that the CAF needed. (How could a young person who feels like a failure and has no financial support possibly resist?)
As a result of my academic debacle with Professor Gilman and the need to repeat an entire academic year, I completely lost interest in academics and worked just hard enough to maintain a healthy C or C- average while immersing myself with great enthusiasm and thoroughly enjoying everything military and athletic.
I don’t remember any of the academic staff other than Professor Gilman. I remember Mr. Cliff Watt who recruited me for the Swim Team; Petty Officer Al Simmons, our swim team and waterpolo coach; and, Sgt Earl Smith our Gymnastics coach.
With a group of like-minded cadets, I took great pleasure in running the Obstacle Course every year (five of them.) All the intramural competitions were great including the dreaded Cadet Wing Harriers. I was especially proud to receive an Athletic Achievement Award for Gymnastics in my fourth year.
In addition, I loved the parades…especially Grad parades…when I felt such tremendous pride “strutting” in front of parents and friends. For me, the RMC Pipes and Drums were wonderful.
I graduated twice (in my mind). When my 1970 classmates moved on without me, I inherited a wonderful gang of 1971 classmates. I made some very special friends with whom I still remain in personal contact.
e) What do you consider your biggest challenge(s) while attending MILCOL
My biggest challenge was to remember that “I was attending a University to get a degree and to honour my promise to my mother.” In many respects, I failed my recruit year because I simply enjoyed all of the physicality of RMC. It was just too easy to have fun. I never thought that my Recruit Years (my first or second) were unpleasant….I just had a fantastic, enjoyable time.
I served in the Regular Force as a pilot. I received my wings in 1972 at Cold Lake. Subsequently, for almost all my postings, my friends would query “Who did you tick off?”
First, from pilot training, I was assigned to helicopters when everyone was thinking jets. Gagetown, New Brunswick flying Ch135 Twin Hueys…a long 5 year posting and I loved the helicopter and the role, working with the Army.
Then, when all my fellow helicopter pilots wanted to remain assigned to an operational squadron, I was posted to 3CFFTS Portage la Prairie to instruct Basic Helicopter on the CH136 Kiowa. Another great job – lots of flying and no camping.
When it was time to move from Portage la Prairie, my friends assumed again that I had annoyed someone because I was posted to NDHQ, the Directorate of Air Plans. I was the first helicopter pilot to be assigned as North American Plans Officer i.e. NORAD. However, my Director was also Canada’s representative on a NATO committee acquiring the E3A AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System – 707 with radar dome). I became the walking/talking file cabinet for my Director (Col Ross Buskard). We traveled to Europe every three months. Col Buskard was a great boss and a fantastic traveling companion. I even got to attend one meeting by myself…as CANADA’s representative.
After 3 years in DAP, I attended Staff College in Toronto and subsequently was posted as Deputy Commanding Officer to 447 Squadron in Edmonton flying CH147 Chinooks. For the first time, my friends didn’t ask “Who did you tick off?” The Chinook was an amazing aircraft and the “heavy-life, long-range, all-weather” capabilty which took us to the Arctic every summer was fabulous.
In 1984, with my colleagues again assuming that I had done something wrong, I was posted back to NDHQ into a new Division, Director General Military Review (Director Military Review – Air). Little did they know that I had requested NDHQ in order to provide my daughters several opportunities to pursue higher education. Plus, my new Director (Col Chet Randall) had been Commandant at 3CFFTS Portage when I was there and he had asked for me to be assigned to his Directorate. Another great job in a great location and a job that gave me the training and exposure that would have a tremendous impact on the remainder of my “career”.
In the Spring of 1990, as part of NDHQ down-sizing to retain only “essential” services, DGMR was slated to be shutdown. At that time, having achieved the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, I had been designated and was awaiting my posting to be the next Commanding Officer for 450 Squadron because I was the only LCol in 10 Tactical Air Group who had been DCO of a Chinook Squadron in 10 Tactical Group and who had instructional experience. These qualifications were particularly important because 450 Sqn was the Chinook training squadron and also had a secondary operational role. Alas, Canada decided to sell the Chinooks so my unique qualifications for the impending posting were null and void. At that time, I had completed 25 years in uniform and Director General Audit (Public Service) asked me if I would consider transferring to DND’s audit branch as a Public Servant. MGen Terrault, Chief of Review Services, endorsed the request and facilitated my decision. Given the opportunity to continue to pursue a career and remain in Ottawa where my oldest daughter had just started her studies at the University of Ottawa, it was an easy decision.
In September of 1990, I became an AS-7 (Section Head) in DGA. The federal government being led by Prime Minister Mulroney had just issued Canada’s first federal Environmental Plan in which there was a requirement for all federal departments to develop an Environmental Audit Program. That became my specific function in DGA and, ultimately, I became accredited as a Certified Environmental Auditor. I remained in that position until the end of 1999 when I took my final retirement as a great way to start the new millennium.
I enjoyed a wonderful, diverse, interesting, challenging, gratifying 35 years in the service of Canada. No regrets at all.
Post CAF time? What have you been doing?
Since retiring, I have been following my “other” dream…to be an artist. And, now I don’t have to worry about “starving”.
Since I was a pre-schooler, I have always loved drawing. In 1987, I took up carving as a hobby. I entered my first competition in 1991 and won the Ward Foundation World Wildfowl Carving Championships as a Novice. Following that auspicious beginning, I was very successful in many competitions. Ultimately, I became an active instructor and judge as well as writing carving articles for a the Canadian WoodWorking magazine. I am still carving although I now think of my artwork as “sculpture” because I am working with stone as well as wood. Some of my creations can be seen on my website, http://www.dbj.ca.
How long have you been Class Secretary? How did you end up with the position?
I am almost half way through my second year as Class Secretary. My classmate, Ray Hook, was Class-Secretary for 25 years and was getting worn out. The simple explanation for my accepting the position is “Ray, asked me!”
To further explain my positive response… I had not attended any of our first 7 reunions but I made it to our 8th. I thoroughly enjoyed attending my FIRST reunion. Given the 5 year gap between Class reunions, it was 40 years since the Class of 1971 graduated. I had great time a seeing so many classmates and renewing the friendships I had made at RMC and throughout my career. I subsequently attended our 45th when we joined the Old Brigade. At that reunion, in addition to meeting my Classmates again, I encountered many of my superiors like General Manson (Chief Air Doctrine &Operations) and General Ashley (Director Air Requirements) who were in those positions when I was in Directorate of Air Plans. Also, Mr. Tony Downs who was Director General Environment when I was managing DND’s Environmental Audit Program.
A more current, and probably the more pressing consideration, was my desire to do what I could to help keep our RMC 1971 Class informed and involved.
When I joined the Armed Forces, my father (a WWII army survivor) offered me some advice. He said, “Many people will tell you to keep your head down and do NOT volunteer…just do your job!” He continued, “I’m telling you that THAT is nonsense. I advise you to VOLUNTEER for everything that you enjoy doing whether it is your primary job or Secondary Duties. That way, you will be so busy doing things that you like, your bosses simply won’t be available to assign the unwelcome jobs to you!” I took his advice and volunteered for everything from Winter Carnival Co-ordinator, President of the Mess Committee, Organizer for the Squadron Reunion etc. etc.. I met so many people everywhere that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet if I stuck to my “primary” trade. Like Col Randall’s request for me to be assigned to DGMR, I think my exposure and performance doing Secondary Duties were the real reason I got promoted and was assigned to unique and interesting positions. I say, ‘GO FOR IT! PUT YOUR BEST FOOT FORWARD AND DON’T LOOK BACK!'”