(Volume 25 Issue 10)
By Jim Scott
For someone who has been coast-to-coast and served overseas, Kathy Johnson seems to be quite a “homer.” She was born “at the foot of the Devil’s Back,” in Greenwich Hill, New Brunswick, and hard by the enormous Canadian Forces Base Gagetown training area. Even though she has travelled far and wide throughout her life, Kathy has found herself back on home turf as she happily carries out her duties at a Canadian Forces warehouse.
You could say, similar to Tolkien’s hero, she has been “there and back again,” though, that was never her intention. Kathy says she was in high school when a well-meaning principal urged her to apply to Katimavik, the national program founded in 1977 to give Canadian youth the opportunity to travel and experience Canada. She was reluctant to do so, partially because she didn’t believe she would be chosen. To her surprise, she was selected and sent to Esquimalt BC; an abrupt transition she describes as “not exactly the start of a beautiful friendship.”
“We did a military service phase at the naval base; rappelling and training like we were in boot camp. Within two weeks, I was homesick and ready to go home. My mother said: “No, you’re not,” and that was it. I stuck it out.”
Back in 1981, Katimavik participants were paid $1 per day and $1,000 for completing a nine-month rotation. Kathy cashed in on that bonus, returned to Saint John, and signed up with HMCS Brunswicker naval reserve unit shortly thereafter. After seven years as a reservist, taking courses and working on the Halifax dockyards and CFB Stadacona, Kathy became a beneficiary of the Regular Force Direct Entry program.
“I was posted to CFB Uplands in Ottawa and was sent on a UN tour to the Golan Heights in 1990. These were very tense times in the Middle East.”
This was, in fact, the time of an eight-year Iran-Iraq conflict, followed by a US/Arab stand-off against Saddam Hussein. Tensions in the Gulf region were taut and after Saddam invaded Kuwait in August 1990 it was inevitable that the UN, urged on by the American government of George Bush Sr., was going to have to commit to action. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney offered three RCN ships, the destroyer Athabaska, frigate Terra Nova and supply ship Protecteur, as well as an augmented squadron of CF-18s (409, The Desert Cats), and force protection troops from the Royal 22e Regiment and Royal Canadian Regiment to be based in Qatar.
Kathy was a member of Operation FRICTION. She recalls spending six months training for war including “NCBW drills,” which involved sporting the clumsy Nuclear, Chemical, Biological Warfare suits on a moment’s notice.
“I liked my time there, and actually requested a six-month extension,” she says. “Other than some Scuds (Chinese-designed missiles) flying about, we weren’t really threatened.”
Kathy returned to Canada and in 1991 and married a military man whom she met in the Gulf. They spent some time in Calgary, had two daughters, and returned to Gagetown in 1996 after CFB Calgary was shut down. It was at this time that Kathy left the Forces and chose Commissionaires as the next phase of her career.
Since that transition, her life has not been without disruption and tragedy. Her marriage fell victim to the stress of the military lifestyle, and in 2013, she lost her younger daughter to bone cancer.
Commissionaires rallied behind her, every time.
“They have always offered support and consideration for individual needs,” she says. “Whatever you need, they are there for you.”
When medical tests indicated she was suffering ill-effects from shift work in her Security classification, she applied for steady hours on the Accommodations side. Although she lost a competition for the position of Barracks Warden, the successful individual is now her boss and she says “he’s a nice guy!”
Steady hours, good pay, a team that works with and for each other, and options to accommodate every employee makes Commissionaires a great choice for a next posting.
“Don’t tell them that I love what I do!” Kathy joked. But I’m sure they are aware.