KEKAHA — Sitting on the shady Shenanigan’s patio days before the change of command at Pacific Missile Range Facility, Capt. Vincent Johnson said he’s not ready to say goodbye to the island he’s grown to love.
“But I don’t have to say goodbye, it’s aloha for now,” Johnson said. “I’m proud. Not only of the base, but of what Kauai is doing. We have a relationship with the community that is unique here.”
Johnson arrived on island in 2016 from a position teaching strategy and policy at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I, relieving Capt. Bruce Hay of command at PMRF.
It’s a story that repeats itself every three years at the base, welcoming fresh leadership for the training and testing activities that PMRF hosts.
On Friday, it’s Johnson’s turn to turn over the command.
When Johnson arrived at the helm, his plan was to continue the work Hay had been doing — keeping a strong connection to the host community, morale on base high and stewardship of the natural and cultural resources in the area strong.
And in doing so, he and his family have been fundamentally changed by their time on Kauai. He and his wife Marcia consider themselves members of the Westside community and their two sons, 9 and 4 years old, have more “aunties” than they’ve ever had.
“Sam (Johnson’s youngest son) speaks pidgin and they’re both going to have to get used to wearing shoes again,” Johnson said.
The past three years have been eventful on Kauai.
A mass pilot whale stranding incident in 2017, as well as other strandings over the past three years involved PMRF response for removal, helping to host necropsy and burial.
Natural disasters, the false missile alert, a brief stint of Sovereignty Kanaka Nation protests at the front gates, and supporting Rim of the Pacific exercise activities all happened in 2018.
This year brought a crypt dedication for iwi discovered on base.
“Whether it’s a flood or prepping for a hurricane, we’ve been out helping if something happens,” Johnson said. “With the (April 2018) flooding, it was cool to see how everyone came together to help out.”
Every branch of the military has three core values. For the Navy, it’s honor, courage and commitment. For the Air Force, it’s integrity, service and excellence.
Time on Kauai has introduced air man Johnson — he started his career flying helicopters straight out of the Naval Academy — to three new core values: malama, ohana and pono.
The word malama relates to protection of resources, cultures and communities; ohana relates to the interconnectedness of community, friends and family; and pono relates to self-conduct and living in a harmonious and responsible way.
“I’m going to leave here a better human being,” Johnson said.
He’s off to Washington, D.C., in late August, where he’s going to be spending six months doing strategy and policy with the Department of the Undersecretary of the Navy.
Then it’ll be about a year of attaché and language training before he and the family are off to Portugal, where he’ll be working at the U.S. Embassy.
“I’ve chosen not to retire,” Johnson said. “I asked myself if I’m still adding value, and if I like what I’m doing and I decided to go to Portugal for a couple years.”
He’s keeping ties on Kauai. Johnson is staying on as a board of directors member for Leadership Kauai and is looking at how to orchestrate coming back to the island for lectures and teaching opportunities.
He’s planning on representing Kauai’s spirit wherever he goes, too.
“I just spent the whole morning learning how to make malasadas,” he said. “It’s different than how they do in Portugal.”