CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- Working 50 years at the same job is more than enough time for retirement, but when Gary "Hogman" Johnson came to work Aug. 25, it was just another day on the job.
At 11 a.m., he arrived at a supply building adjacent to the lighthouse at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for what he was told would be a "Pre-launch/Guardian Challenge Celebration."
Co-workers, supervisors and other well-wishers, including representatives of the 45th Space Wing, were waiting inside to spring a surprise party in his honor. Organizers begged those in the know not to tell Mr. Johnson the party was for him - to prevent spoiling the surprise - and for fear he wouldn't attend.
"He's stubborn that way," said Nancy Carmichael, Security Police administration, who sent out party invitations.
Mr. Johnson came from the hills of West Virginia at age 20 when he was hired to work as a Cape security officer in 1956. He was paid $1.56 per hour.
His first launch at the Cape was a memorable one. The rocket exploded.
"It was going like a helicopter blade," he said. "I backpedaled like mad. I was just a dumb country boy. Someone detonated it when it was 210 yards from me; it knocked my butt down."
Mr. Johnson said he thought he should report the event to emergency services, not realizing the building he ran backwards into was the base fire department.
"We didn't have launch disaster control then," he said. "After that, we did."
He has since learned so much about the Cape and its operations he's considered an invaluable resource. He may, for instance, know more about the Cape's roads - and off-road areas - than anyone.
"He has a lot of knowledge," said Deputy Chief of Police Tim Imka. "There's never ever been anyone like Gary. There may be others who work 50 years, but no one like him."
There is no one in the JBOSC who is more knowledgeable of his or her directorate's launch functions and responsibilities than Mr. Johnson, said Peter Colangelo, Joint Base Operations Support Contract deputy program manager.
"Moreover, since his responsibilities keep him in the launch area longer than other supervisors, he knows how all the JBOSC launch functions must interface to ensure the best launch support possible," said Mr. Colangelo.
Lt. Col. Douglas Stropes, 45th Mission Support Group Detachment 1 commander, said when he reported to the Cape he was given innumerable briefs on launch safety and other facets of operations. Briefers gave him stacks of books, CDs and thumb drives full of information. When it was time for his security briefing, in came Mr. Johnson - with no books or thumb drives. The wisdom he imparted to the new commander came straight from Mr. Johnson's head.
"He knows this stuff. He's proactive, too, especially with 2 a.m. launches at S-1," said Colonel Stropes, referring to an off-road ride in the dark he made as a passenger with Mr. Johnson driving to access a site.
On behalf of 45th SW Commander Brig. Gen. Susan Helms, who was unable to attend the surprise party, Colonel Stropes awarded a Cape Commander's coin, number 100 of 100 coins minted.
Colleagues also presented him with a number of gifts and gag gifts, including space memorabilia and a couple of pigs - for his namesake.
Mr. Johnson earned his nickname, "Hogman," after working for years as the wildlife officer at the Cape.
"I worked environmental and sea turtle protection many years," he said.
Mr. Johnson is also known for his practical jokes - and for his initiation of new security officers.
"I worked security 15 years with him," said Coral Deshotel of SGS power and protective systems. "One night about midnight he said, 'Landry - my last name then - here's your radio, your keys and your map. I need you to go to this road block.'"
Ms. Deshotel went to the roadblock, called in, got another set of instructions to go to another roadblock, then another. She spent another hour searching for the roadblock, and was practically in tears; she was on probation at her new job.
"I called in, and he said, 'Hurry up.' And I said, 'I can't find it." He said, 'Why not?' I told him, 'I'm blonde, sir.'"
When she finally returned to the station, crying, co-workers were laughing so hard they were crying. The roadblock didn't exist.
"I love what I do. Folks here have been really good to me," said Mr. Johnson, who has no plans yet to retire. "I hope I get another two or three years in."
As the party wound down, he told a co-worker, "When I leave here, I'm going out in an ambulance."
When he does leave, he'll "leave behind a legacy," said Chief of Police Eric Provost. "He trained hundreds if not thousands of security officers. That's good work in my book."