Paul Johnson earned the Air Force Cross leading a daring mission deep into Iraq to rescue a downed Navy pilot. Born in 1958 in Gadsden, Alabama, Johnson grew up in Tennessee. In 1980, he earned a degree in Agriculture from Murray State University in Kentucky. After five years in farming, including sloppin hogs, he joined the Air Force. He completed Officer Training School, and then went to Laughlin AFB, Texas to earn his pilots wings. He chose an assignment to fighters and upgraded to the Fairchild Republic A-10 Warthog at Davis Monthan AFB, Arizona.
At his first operational unit, the 353rd Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) at Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina, Johnson demonstrated exceptional ability flying the hog. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the squadron deployed to King Fahd Royal Airport, Saudi Arabia, but Johnson was sent to Fighter Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nevada. As a distinguished graduate, he rejoined the 353rd TFS Panthers. In preparation for combat, the squadron went on alert for a mission they had long trained, combat search and rescue. Four days after the beginning of the air war over Iraq, Johnson and a fellow Panther pilot launched on a mission to find the crew of a downed Grumman F-14 Tomcat.
Deeper in enemy airspace than any A-10 before, Johnson was met by unknown enemy defenses, bad weather, and confusion about the downed Navy pilots position. The mission demanded clear thinking to orchestrate the rescue force that included helicopters, tankers, fighters, and airborne warning and control aircraft. The mission was successful and a first for the A-10. A few days later, Johnson demonstrated his skills again when his aircraft was hit by enemy fire. The explosion left a gaping hole in the right wing of the A-10, disabled one of the aircrafts two hydraulic systems, and crippled the right engine. He managed to fly the badly damaged Warthog back to Saudi airspace, where he air refueled as he recovered at King Fahd AB.
Johnson feared that when the right gear was lowered, he might lose the outer wing, but fortunately he got three in the green. Having brought the aircraft home on a wing and a prayer, he flew a no-flap approach to a smooth landing, despite a blown tire, which shredded on touchdown! After the war, he went to the Fighter Weapons School and used his Desert Storm experience as an instructor. Next, Johnson attended the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Since graduation in 1996, he has been as an action officer on the Operations Staff (J3) at US European Command in Stuttgart Germany.
On 21 January 1991, after enduring a fitful nights sleep, interrupted by several Scud missile alerts, Sandy 57, PJ Johnson found himself deep in Iraqi airspace. At an altitude of 300 feet, he located a downed Navy pilot and then had to leave the area to refuel. Just as he returned leading a rescue helicopter, a truck was headed directly at the crewman. Johnson and his wingman destroyed the truck less than 100 yards from the pilot. Sandy 57 and 58 finally landed at home base after 4 air refuelings and an intense 8 hours and 45 minutes in the cockpit!