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Canadian Flyer And His Family Loving Life In Sandwich

Posted in: Sandwich News, Top Stories
Dec 12, 2008 - 12:00:08 PM
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The Johnson family—Keily, Jennifer, Nora, Byron, and Mya—at home on Sea Meadow Drive in Sandwich. The family has been in town for the past 2 1/2 years while Mr. Johnson is on exchange from the Canadian military to the United States Coast Guard. Mr. Johnson is a search and rescue helicopter pilot. DON PARKINSON/ENTERPRISE
SANDWICH- When Byron J. Johnson enlisted in the Canadian military in 1991, he had no idea that some day, in the not too distant future, that decision would lead him to the United States, to a home on Sea Meadow Drive in Sandwich, to plucking fishermen from sinking ships in the icy cold Atlantic, to rushing pregnant mothers in distress to critical care hospitals in Boston, and all from behind the stick of a Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter.
Mr. Johnson is part of an elite crew of search and rescue pilots who call Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod their home base and cover 550 nautical miles of coastline from the northernmost reaches of Maine all the way south past New York City. He’s the only Canadian flyer on the team. He’s been on exchange from his homeland for the past 2 1/2 years.
“When it comes to search and rescue, the US and Canada are performing the same mission over some of the same waters,” Mr. Johnson said. “If there’s someone in distress, the border lines don’t really mean anything.”
He said the goal of the exchange program is to share techniques and procedures and, perhaps more importantly, foster strong relationships between the two neighboring countries.
All told, there are approximately 600 Canadian military personnel—members of the combined Canadian Forces—on exchange right now in the United States. Roughly 20 of them are pilots. Mr. Johnson is the only search and rescue helicopter pilot in the lot.
The two nations have been exchanging military personnel for quite some time. The Coast Guard exchange has been in existence between Cape Cod and a base in Comox, British Columbia, for 30 years.
Mr. Johnson said before the exchange, he had never been to Cape Cod, or to New England for that matter. But he and his wife, Jennifer P., saw the exchange as an adventure. They arrived in Sandwich during the summer of 2006 with their three young daughters: Mya L., who was 7 years old at the time; Keily M., who was 6; Nora G., who was 3.
They chose Sandwich, Mr. Johnson said, because it has excellent schools, plenty of young families, and was not as “touristy” as Falmouth.
“It seemed like a place we could get use to quickly,” Mr. Johnson said. The Johnsons moved into a home at the end of Sea Meadow Drive, off Gully Lane. They are renting the home from a Coast Guardsman who is currently stationed elsewhere.
Mrs. Johnson said right from the first time her husband mentioned the exchange, she was excited about the idea. She was enthused about making a new start in a new community. She said moving so far from home did not worry her.
“Both my parents were in the military when I was growing up, so we moved around constantly,” she said.
“The trick is you have to immerse yourself in your new community right away,” she said. “We’re here for only three years. That’s not a lot of time when you think about it. You need to find out what the community has to offer and then go after it, if you hope to get anything out of the experience.”
The Johnsons said that their neighbors made adjusting to their new home in the United States quite easy.
“The moving truck was still in front of the house and already my neighbor from across the street was over with a bowl of fresh fruit to welcome us,” Mrs. Johnson said. “A couple days later another of our neighbors, Diane Hanelt, who works at Town Hall, stopped by with a packet of information about the town.”
Just three weeks after arriving, when Mr. Johnson had to report to Alabama for two months of training, members of the Sandwich Mom’s Club dropped by with frozen meals for Mrs. Johnson and the girls.
“I thought to myself, ‘We’ve just moved to heaven,’ ” she said.
By the time her husband returned from Alabama, Mrs. Johnson had already begun establishing the family within the community.
“He laughed when we went to Stop & Shop after he got back and some of the folks there knew my name already,” Mrs. Johnson said.
In the 2 1/2 years that the Johnsons have been here, they’ve built many close friendships. Both admit that it will be difficult to leave when the exchange ends this summer.
“There will be tears, no question about it,” Mrs. Johnson said. “Sure, the Cape is beautiful, and Byron has really enjoyed his work, but it’s the people we’re going to miss. They are what makes this place so special. “
When the Johnsons leave town in July, they will be heading back to Canada—exactly where in Canada, they don’t know yet. Mr. Johnson’s next assignment has not yet been decided.
It will be an adjustment moving back to Canada, Mrs. Johnson admits.
“I’ve sort of gotten use to this Fahrenheit thing,” she said with a laugh. On a more serious note, she said her daughters will likely struggle a bit with the differences in the Canadian schools, especially Nora, now 5 years old, who was just 3 when she came to Sandwich.
“Some of the big differences are that in Canada, you don’t have cafeterias, you eat at your desks and you don’t have school nurses or even “specials” like art and music. In Canada, it’s your teacher that leads gym,” Mrs. Johnson said.
But the Johnsons will have a slew of memories of their three years in Sandwich to take back with them when they pack up and head north—memories of Saturday morning walks along Scorton Creek with the dogs, of summertime cookouts, of evenings spent singing songs and playing guitars with friends until their voices and fingers were raw.
As Christmas nears, Mrs. Johnson was reminded of last Christmas when her husband was at the controls of the helicopter that brought Santa all the way from the North Pole to Air Station Cape Cod for a visit with the children of military personnel.
“Our girls just couldn’t believe it,” Mrs. Johnson said. “Their dad was bringing Santa to the party. How many kids can say that their dad delivered Santa from the North Pole? It was pretty special. That’s what this time here has been to all of us: special. We’re so glad we came to Sandwich.”

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