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Sault native Johnson describes life in the navy, some tense moments near Russian vessels (6 photos)

Cory Johnson serves on board HMCS Charlottetown, working with missile control and defence systems

Though the original Cold War with the former Soviet Union ended long ago, new tensions with Russia and other nations and terrorist groups, as everyone knows, have arisen in the 21st century.

At least one Sault Ste. Marie native knows that from personal experience.

Cory Johnson serves in the Royal Canadian Navy with the rank of Leading Seaman (LS) aboard the frigate HMCS Charlottetown.

The Charlottetown sailed with the Maritime Task Force component of Operation Reassurance in the Baltic Sea and Mediterranean Sea from August 2017 to January 19, 2018.

The Canadian Armed Forces are serving in a land, sea and air role in Central and Eastern Europe with NATO partners as a deterrence measure and a show of Allied solidarity.

“To be honest, we were in a couple of situations, and it was extremely stressful,” Johnson told SooToday in a telephone interview.

Johnson works aboard HMCS Charlottetown as a fire control technician, working with missile control and defence systems.

“The first time, we had to get everything electrically safe and unlock missiles so they could be fired if needed. We had several Russian ships and submarines around us. It’s no secret we were tracking and monitoring where they were going.”

“They were very close to us and we didn’t have any communication as to what they were doing in the area, and why they were getting closer. It’s very stressful. Even when you’re not on watch, you think of your family,” Johnson said, adding Russian fighter aircraft also flew over the NATO force.

“They came pretty close.”

Johnson can chuckle a bit about it now, but when recalling his time spent overseas, said “there was a lot of nervousness, a little high blood pressure. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You take every day as it comes.”

However, Johnson said “I feel like we made our presence known over there, and accomplished what we went over there for, to be a deterrent.”  

HMCS Charlottetown returned to Halifax Jan. 19, replaced by HMCS St. John’s in Operation Reassurance duties.

Describing ‘a day-in-the-life’ in his duties, Johnson said “we do daily checks on our equipment, checking on our missile inventory, monitoring all combat systems on consoles in the operations room.”

“Some days it can be extremely busy,” said Johnson, the Charlottetown carrying missiles which are designed to intercept any enemy missiles which are launched at the ship, others to strike at opposing ships or aircraft.

While on Operation Reassurance, Johnson said he and his fellow Canadian sailors worked and interacted with personnel from a total of 13 navies from other countries, including Finland and Italy.

“In port, a lot of us got together and had drinks on shore, we would play each other in soccer games and other sporting events,” Johnson fondly remembered.

Despite the language differences, Johnson said the sailors shared a common bond in their mission.

“Their lives are very similar to ours.”

Johnson, 31, was born in the Sault and lived here until the age of 14, when he moved to Ottawa with his family.

He returned to the community 10 years later to attend Sault College, completing the three-year Electrical Engineering Technician-Process Automation program.

Johnson took the program as preparation to serve as a skilled tradesperson in the Canadian Forces, the Forces paying for his education. 

Before joining the navy, Johnson worked as a developmental services worker in Ottawa, helping people with disabilities in a group home.

He later decided on a career change.

A married father of two (his family lives in Halifax), Johnson said “I was looking for an alternative, a better salary, so I went to see the recruiting centre and they offered me the incentive to go to a civilian college, then be posted to Halifax.”

After some additional training in Halifax, Johnson was posted to the Charlottetown.

“I happened to luck out. Most people get switched around after they’re finished their training, but I got posted back to the Charlottetown.”

“I would recommend it. You really get some good education, I got paid for going to college after joining, so I think it’s a fantastic opportunity,” Johnson said.

“(Serving in the Royal Canadian Navy) really gives my children something to be proud of, and it really makes me happy.”

Though he enjoys life in Halifax and on board HMCS Charlottetown, Johnson said the Sault is still in his blood.

“I still have my father, uncles and cousins in the Sault. I love coming back to the Sault to visit and go camping. If I could live there I definitely would.”