Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert M. Johnson

Remember Our Heroes

Robert Johnson, elite Army helicopter pilot

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert M. Johnson, 41, a graduate of Seattle's Ingraham High School, was killed Wednesday while flying an Army training exercise in Colorado.

By Seattle Times staff and news services

Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert Johnson was an Ingraham High graduate.
While America will remember him as a war hero, to Connie McGrath her son will always be "my Robby."

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert Johnson, 41, a graduate of Seattle's Ingraham High School, died Wednesday while flying an Army training exercise in Colorado.

He was one of four members of an elite special-operations unit killed.

The soldiers were members of the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.

Army Special Operations Command officials said their MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed while conducting mountain and environmental training.

The elite unit, home to some of the Army's best helicopter pilots, focuses on getting Special Forces soldiers, Army Rangers and Navy SEALS into some of the most dangerous areas of the world for covert operations.

While an investigation of the accident is still under way, Chief Warrant Officer Johnson's mother said from her home in Enumclaw on Friday night that she believed her son had been piloting the helicopter.

"We are still in shock around here. ... He was such a good pilot. It is hard for us to believe it is because of anything he had done."

Chief Warrant Officer Johnson grew up in Seattle and joined the Army because of his love for flying, which he learned by taking lessons at Paine Field, McGrath said.

His mother said he was drawn to the most dangerous and elite work the Army had to offer. First it was flying Black Hawk helicopters in some of the world's most dangerous venues. But that wasn't enough. He applied for and won acceptance to an even more elite unit, nicknamed the Nightstalkers for their missions flown in low light in the most dangerous of situations.

Chief Warrant Officer Johnson's awards included the Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal for Valor, 13 Air Medals, five Army Commendation Medals, six Army Achievement Medals and many others.

He entered the Army in 1990 and was a combat veteran with 20 deployments, 18 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, one in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and one in support of operations in Somalia.

His mother said she would often think of her son so far away doing work that both frightened her and made her deeply proud. When he went to Iraq, she sent him care packages with treats specially selected from home: Tim's Cascade Potato Chips, regular flavor; Oberto's meat snacks; smoked salmon; and the Gouda cheese she found packaged in wax so it would stay fresh.

"When my packages arrived ... they always had a regular picnic," she said.

McGrath said she used to have nightmares about Army officials knocking on her door to say something had happened to her son.

"But I got over that. I got used to it. I forgot about it," she said.

On Thursday, however, the knock came. Told of the news, she mostly was struck with disbelief. But she knew he had died doing what made him proud.

"It made him feel very important, and I knew he was doing something he really loved to do, and I was never going to keep him from that," she said.

Chief Warrant Officer Johnson is survived by his wife, Sandra Johnson; his daughter and son, Morgan and Hatch, of Clarksville, Tenn.; and his mother and father, Connie and Wells McGrath, of Enumclaw.

Private services will be held in Tennessee.

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