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Marine Aviator Called On Again

From the Marine Corps flag flying in tandem with the American flag outside the Johnson house in the Springvale area of Springfield, it was clear the Johnsons' was a household steeped in the red, white and blue that swept the area since the Iraq war began in March. Their son, Rick Johnson Jr., is a Marine pilot called up for his second war in Iraq, reinforcing family tradition and faith in the cause.

In Desert Storm, the first war in Iraq, Johnson flew the A-6 Intruder, a combat aircraft that was retired by the military soon after the war. This time, he's flying a C-130 cargo airplane, supplying the troops.

Ginny Johnson remembered back to Rick's graduation from Lee High School in 1981, and his subsequent pilot training while a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy, where Rick graduated in 1985.

"I never thought 20 years later, we'd be in a war situation," she said. "He's been in two wars."

When the news of James Adamouski's death, a fellow Lee graduate, reached her, the war took on a darker side.

"He graduated 10 years after my son," said Ginny Johnson. "The kids there are going through much more hardships than we think."

Rick Sr., also a graduate of the Naval Academy and a former Marine, has pictures and e-mails from his son in a pile on the table. He read an excerpt.

"Every day, we flew troops, equipment and wounded," he said.

"With the palm trees and mortars going off around him, he said it was like a scene in "Apocalypse Now," that was his favorite movie," Rick Sr. said.

Rick Jr. attended law school at the University of Vermont after going into the Marine Reserve and practiced law in Vermont as the assistant state attorney. He was nominated to be the chief drug prosecutor in Vermont before he was called to duty. He left for Iraq in January, three weeks after his daughter, Charlotte, was born.

His father said assignment could add a level of uncertainty to the duration of his deployment. A cargo plane like the C-130 might be needed for a longer period of time than a fighter airplane would be called on, like in the previous war.

"That really is the big unknown for many of the families. If [President George W.] Bush is true to his message, our troops could be over there for a long time," Ginny Johnson said.

The gap between the end of the first Gulf war and the parade down Independence Avenue was something to be concerned about as well, said Rick Sr.

"Even if the war ends tomorrow, it could be a long time before the troops come home," he said.

RICK JR.'S WIFE, Lisa (Cougill) Johnson, is also a Lee graduate, but they didn't know each other while in school.

"They both went to Lee High School and met at the 10th reunion," Ginny Johnson said.

Lisa's parents live in West Springfield. She plans on coming down for Easter to spend some time with both families.

"It's very hard for Lisa. She doesn't have the military support in Vermont," Ginny Johnson said.

Lisa's father, Terry Cougill, was in the Army so she was accustomed to the military overseas tours. "They expected it in the time of war," Rick Sr. said.

While in Iraq, Rick Jr. met up with his old roommate from the Naval Academy, as well as Kirk Kumagai, who was his A-6 navigator in the first war. Kumagai is an adopted son of sorts to the Johnson family and they received a postcard from Kumagai on the back of a MRE (meals ready to eat) box from Iraq.

"Our son is seeing more of his friends in Iraq than he did while in Vermont," Ginny Johnson said.

She does know of another Lee graduate, Mark Ridder, who is also over in Iraq. The yellow ribbons and American flags flying in the neighborhood were comforting to Ginny Johnson.

"I noticed driving around the neighborhood and seeing a lot of yellow ribbons. Springfield has always been a natural place for field grade [military rate] and above. It's too bad it has to be a war that does that," she said.