Living Well

The complete list of ways Kirk Johnson contributes his time on behalf of veterans is too long to fit here. Pinned to his hat is a token of recognition for the 25,000 hours he racked up as a volunteer, but that’s just for one program.A short list includes 20 years helping at the local VA clinic. He serves as a chaplain when needed, lobbies Congress, chairs the Claims & Services Commission of the state’s Disabled American Veterans Department. He’s passionate about helping veterans find care and benefits. Johnson also volunteers for the Local Veterans Assistant Program, doing necessary chores such as mowing lawns or driving a client to church. “Whatever it takes,” he says. “It’s a thing that’s in my blood,” Johnson explains.“I always want to be the first one to help people.” Johnson—who also goes by“Cheef”— joined the army in 1978, training as a mechanic and helicopter crew chief. In 1984 he became a pilot. Even as a boy growing up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Johnson set goals and worked toward them.While in high school he also took an overnight job.With the money he saved, Johnson was able to buy a small house for $12,500 at the age of 19. As a helicopter mechanic based in the Washington, D.C. area, Johnson was selected as crew chief of the craft used to ferry dignitaries around—often the Secretary of the Army, but also officials such as Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger and House Speaker Tip O’Neill.“I was probably the most powerful enlisted man in the army,” he recalls with a chuckle. His transition from crew chief to pilot came after an incident over the Potomac River, when the wake of a civilian airliner that had just taken off from Washington National Airport sent his helicopter plunging toward the water.The pilots managed to regain control just in time.“I made the decision that if I’m going to die, I want to be in control,” Johnson says.“That’s how I ended up going to flight school.” He notes that of the 700 soldiers taking the course, only four were Black and just one was a woman. He graduated in 1984 at the top of his class and was sent to Fort Ord. An auto accident in 1988 put an end to his flying. He left the Army and began a career of volunteering. “The only time I realize that it takes a lot of my time is when I start to tell people what I do,” he says.“I don’t really feel it.” Veteran Volunteer Kirk Johnson accomplished a lot in the military. He is doing even more for others who served. By Dave Faries DANIEL DREIFUSS San Andreas Regional Center (SARC) Centro Regional San Andreas (SARC) • Services for individuals with developmental disabilities, including service coordination, information, and referrals. • Servicios para personas con discapacidades del desarrollo, que incluye coordinación de servicios, información y referencia. M-F/L-V 8am-5pm 831-900-3636 Seneca Family of Agencies Central Coast Seneca Familia de Agencias Costa Central • Community services including foster care, adoption, relative caregiver support, children’s mental health, wraparound services, and parent and professional education. • Servicios comunitarios que incluyen cuidado tutelar, adopción, apoyo a parientes cuidadores, salud mental infantil y servicios integrales, y educación para padres y profesionales. M-F/L-V 8:30am-5pm 831-455-9965 - Salinas Share the Care Comparte el Cuidado • Evidence-informed model for family, friends, and associates to pool time and resources to share caregiving responsibilities. • Modelo basado en evidencia para familiares, amigos y asociados para juntar tiempo y recursos para compartir responsabilidades de cuidado. 212-991-9688 Family and Caregiver Familia y Cuidadores 56 The Best of Monterey Bay® Living Well 2024-2025