Johnston promoted, assumes command of CAP squadron
1st Lt. Andrew Johnston officially assumed command of the Civil Air Patrol Tri-County Squadron on Monday.
Andy Johnston assumed command of the Civil Air Patrol’s Tri-County Squadron on March 28.
During a change-of-command ceremony at the Park Rapids Municipal Airport’s arrival-departure building, Johnston was also promoted from Tech Sergeant to 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary.
“Squadron command is one of the most challenging and demanding positions in which to serve in Civil Air Patrol,” said CAP Tech Sgt. Doug Mitchell, who emceed the program. “Unique as the position is, this is a position reserved for only officers. Tech Sgt. Johnston has been an enthusiastic and engaged NCO with Tri-County. However, the time has come for him to transition, at least temporarily, to the officer corps.”
Lt. Col. Jason Suby, Group 1 commander with the CAP’s Minnesota Wing, presided over the ceremony, pinning epaulets to Johnston’s shirt with the help of Andy’s wife, 1st Lt. Jolene Johnston.
Passing the colors
Next came a traditional Air Force ceremony of formally transferring command from one officer to another – in this case, from Major Dianne Harris, who had been squadron commander since March 6, 2016. Harris, who was out of state at the time, attended the ceremony via Zoom.
In the ceremony, a non-commissioned officer (NCO) passes the group flag from the outgoing commander to another officer, who then hands it to the incoming commander before the NCO receives it back. Mitchell said this symbolized the honorable conclusion of the Harris’ command, the beginning of Johnston’s new responsibilities and “the organizational continuity provided by the non-commissioned officers.”
"Squadron command is definitely one of the most challenging jobs in the Civil Air Patrol,” said Suby. “I'd like to thank Major Harris for her dedicated work for six years. This is normally a four-year tour, and due to COVID and other uncertainties in the world, she was gracious enough to stay on, and has done a fantastic job with the squadron the entire time."
Suby also acknowledged that Johnston spent many hours taking online classes and completing forms to meet the requirements of being a squadron commander. “This isn’t something that’s handed out very lightly,” he said. “Lt. Johnston has really gone above and beyond.”
Harris, who has served 29 years in the Civil Air Patrol, said she was happy the Johnstons stepped forward and helped revive Tri-County as a composite squadron, with both senior members and cadets. “I’m so, so proud of them,” she said, “because I couldn’t have done it myself.”
Johnston said his priorities for the squadron include getting a ground team certified to assist emergency services – noting that three senior members and five cadets recently participated in search and rescue exercises in Brainerd – as well as to recruit more adult volunteers, train and mentor youth to become future leaders, and serve the Walker, Akeley, Nevis and Park Rapids area.
In his first act as squadron commander, Johnston presented cadet Malachi Martin with the Wright Brothers Award for completing the cadet program’s learning phase.
“The award recognizes excellence in all four areas of cadet life: leadership, aerospace, fitness and character,” Johnston said. “In addition, Wright Brothers Award recipients have passed a challenging, closed-book examination, testing leadership knowledge and proficiency in drill and ceremonies.”
Martin was also promoted to the non-commissioned rank of Cadet Staff Sergeant and entered the second phase of the cadet program, leadership training.
“He is one of the most outstanding cadets that we have,” said Johnston.
Suby also presented the Group Commander’s Achievement Award to Major James Harris for “outstanding duty performance” during a special project in January 2021.
“You helped myself and wing staff out with something very important,” Suby said, “whereby your unique ability to help us manage to keep an entire squadron from shutting down and being deactivated.”
He also presented Major Dianne Harris with the Wing Commander’s Commendation, recognizing her “not just four, but six years of outstanding service through some of the most trying conditions we’ve had in the Civil Air Patrol, with COVID and everything else.”
A reception with refreshments followed.