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The Airman who traveled the world but never left Keesler

Senior Master Sgt. Eric H. Johnson III, 403rd Maintenance Sqadron Propulsion Flight chief, points at a pushpin map where he tracks the places he's been throughout his 32-year Air Force career Oct. 17, 2017 at Keesler Air Force Base Mississippi. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney)

Senior Master Sgt. Eric H. Johnson III, 403rd Maintenance Sqadron Propulsion Flight chief, points at a pushpin map where he tracks the places he's been throughout his 32-year Air Force career Oct. 17, 2017 at Keesler Air Force Base Mississippi. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney)

Senior Master Sgt. Eric H. Johnson III, 403rd Maintenance Sqadron Propulsion Flight chief, poses for a photo in front of a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft propeller Oct. 17, 2017 at Keesler Air Force Base Mississippi. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney)

Senior Master Sgt. Eric H. Johnson III, 403rd Maintenance Sqadron Propulsion Flight chief, poses for a photo in front of a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft propeller Oct. 17, 2017 at Keesler Air Force Base Mississippi. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney)

Senior Master Sgt. Eric H. Johnson III, 403rd Maintenance Sqadron Propulsion Flight chief, points at a pushpin map where he tracks the places he's been throughout his 32-year Air Force career Oct. 17, 2017 at Keesler Air Force Base Mississippi. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney)

Senior Master Sgt. Eric H. Johnson III, 403rd Maintenance Sqadron Propulsion Flight chief, points at a pushpin map where he tracks the places he's been throughout his 32-year Air Force career Oct. 17, 2017 at Keesler Air Force Base Mississippi. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney)

Senior Master Sgt. Eric H. Johnson III, 403rd Maintenance Sqadron Propulsion Flight chief, poses for a photo in front of a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft propeller Oct. 17, 2017 at Keesler Air Force Base Mississippi. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney)

Senior Master Sgt. Eric H. Johnson III, 403rd Maintenance Sqadron Propulsion Flight chief, poses for a photo in front of a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft propeller Oct. 17, 2017 at Keesler Air Force Base Mississippi. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- The symmetrical curve of a propeller’s blades allows them to spin so fast that they become a translucent silhouette and lift aircraft into the sky.

For more than 30 years, Senior Master Sgt. Eric H. Johnson III, 403rd Maintenance Squadron Propulsion Flight chief, has cared for and kept the propellers turning at Keesler Air Force Base, the only base to which he was assigned his entire Air Force career.

He stepped through the doors of Hangar 5 in June 1982 as an Airman Basic at the beginning of his career and will be walking out those same doors after a retirement ceremony honoring his 32-year career Nov. 5.

Johnson grew up in New Milford, Connecticut, and left for basic military training in January 1982. He started out as an active duty turboprop mechanic with the 3380th Field Maintenance Squadron and spent more than 12 years working on EC-130E Commando Solo and EC-130H Compass Call airborne battlefield command and control center aircraft as well as WC-130E and WC-130H Hercules weather reconnaissance aircraft. On July 1, 1991 all 3380th maintenance personnel were reassigned to the 7th Airborne Command and Control Squadron until that squadron left Keesler in October 1994.

At that time, Johnson separated from active duty but stayed on the Mississippi Gulf Coast working on the Keesler flight line but as transit alert caring for aircraft that were visiting the base from elsewhere. Then, in 1998, he joined the 403rd Wing and became a full-time Air Reserve Technician in the same propulsion shop he leads today.

“If you cut open my boss, I think he would bleed mobile jet engine oil,” said Master Sgt. Kathy Wheelock, 403rd MXS engine manager. “Not only does he know everything about the aircraft, he also knows about each specialist’s job as well. Every time he does a tour in our section for distinguished visitors I listen in amazement of the things he knows, and I learn something new every time.”

As the propulsion shop flight chief he is responsible for 67 propulsion mechanics performing engine maintenance on the only Air Force Reserve fleet of C-130J and WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft.

“He has the uncanny ability to push all of his troops in a way to get the best out of each and every one of them. He also holds people accountable,” Wheelock said.

“His passion and knowledge base are obvious, anyone who’s interacted with him can see it,” said Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Linthicum, 403rd MXS superintendent. “He’s completely selfless and always looking to improve the unit as a whole.”

Johnson was even part of the team when the J model C-130 was in the operational test and evaluation phase. During that time he helped develop modifications that increased the safety and efficiency of the entire Air Force J-model fleet manufactured by Lockheed Martin.

“We’ve done that for several different things that Lockheed’s asked,” Johnson said. “Keesler has always been the first base to step up.”

Over the years he has deployed in support of operations Urgent Fury, Just Cause, Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Deny Flight and Enduring Freedom, performing maintenance that was critical to get mission-essential aircraft in the air.

“I just wanted to fix aircraft so I did it to the best of my ability and had fun doing it,” Johnson said.

He’s traveled to Bermuda, throughout the Caribbean, Italy, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Guam, Alaska, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Midway, Kwajalein, South Korea, Japan, France, Spain, Portugal and several other locations to perform his duties and keeps a map dotted with push pins to record the places he’s been.

He said that one moment he’ll never forget is traveling with the 815th Airlift Squadron to Normandy, France to celebrate the 72rd anniversary and reenactment of D-Day in 2016. During that trip, he got to see a slice of his own history, as his grandfather was a B-17 pilot during World War II.

Johnson said that over the years he’s watched things transform around him including the technology, people and the base.

“The technology is night and day,” he said.

In 1982 he was working on “dinosaur” legacy aircraft built in the 60s and 70s and said that the C-130J model feels more like an F-16 on steroids in comparison. He also said the downside to the upgraded technology is that the mechanics today rely more on computers to tell them what’s wrong with the aircraft rather than troubleshooting the problems themselves and figuring it out.

“You probably used your brain more on your feet back in the day because you were troubleshooting aircraft through experience where now you’re basically told this is the problem, change this part, if it doesn’t fix it you change a different one,” Johnson said.

Keesler itself has undergone dramatic changes in the more than 30 years he’s been here.

“I can remember playing softball and football on different fields around the base that have long been gone,” Johnson said. “Basically everything’s been torn down and built anew.”

He spent his first week at Keesler in one of the base’s original World War II barracks, only one of which is still standing today. A great portion of that change is due to the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The Hurricane Hunter mission had to continue despite the devastation. Johnson said after the storm passed he was able to spend one night with his family then showed up at 6 a.m. the next morning to help his team clean up the hangar at Keesler as much as they could. That evening, they left for Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia, for two and a half months to provide hurricane relief and finish out the reconnaissance requirements for the season.

Just like during Katrina he has made the mission and the people around him his first priority throughout his career.

“If the job needed to be done he was out there doing it, and he didn’t wait for no man,” Wheelock said. “He loves what he does, and he does what he loves.”

“There will never be another like him,” Linthicum said. “The lasting effect he’s had will carry on for a long time.”