Alumnus returns to lead Air Force ROTC program

Air Force Col Gregg S. Johnson

With more than 3,600 flight hours, Air Force Col. Gregg S. Johnson has flown combat missions in support of operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and the former country of Yugoslavia, among other regions.  

After most recently serving as the commander of 60th Operations Group at Travis Air Force Base in California, Johnson’s latest assignment has brought him to Colorado State University, where he got his start as an Air Force ROTC cadet more than 20 years ago. 

Johnson has returned to his alma mater to lead AFROTC Detachment 90, a cadre of more than 150 cadets enrolled at CSU, the University of Northern Colorado, Aims Community College and Front Range Community College.  

“I’m back where it began,” said Johnson, who started his career flying the C-17 strategic transport aircraft. “It’s an awesome opportunity.” 

Growing the program 

Johnson said that one of his goals is to continue to grow the program’s number of cadets, noting that his predecessors and CSU have laid the groundwork for success. In 2019, Detachment 90 was recognized as the best in the nation after winning the prestigious Right of Line Award from the Air Force’s Air University. 

“We have a great foundation that was built before I arrived,” said Johnson, whose assignment at CSU ends in 2024. “So, it’s continuing to engage with CSU and advance some programs such as the leadership curriculum. I want to bring in some talented high school graduates that not only benefit from ROTC but the University as well.”  

“We have a great foundation that was built before I arrived.  So, it’s continuing to engage with CSU and advance some programs such as the leadership curriculum. I want to bring in some talented high school graduates that not only benefit from ROTC but the University as well.” 

— Air Force Col. Gregg S. Johnson

 In his first few months on the job, Johnson — who chairs the Department of Aerospace Studies and teaches senior classes on national security strategy and commissioning — said that he has been impressed with the cadets inside and outside of the classroom. 

As an example, a group of Air Force ROTC cadets helped a CSU graduate and Air Force veteran whose home was destroyed as a result of the Cameron Peak Fire.  

“They’re talented in so many different ways,” he said. “They’re talented in academics. Their critical thinking skills are off the charts. The curiosity they bring to the classroom has been amazing. I’m also impressed and inspired by what they do in the community.”  

Homecoming 

Gregg Johnson
Johnson in 1994 as a Detachment 90 Cadet.

Johnson, who graduated from CSU in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, said a lot has changed since he was a student living in Westfall Hall. 

He said that he was struck by the evolution of the Lory Student Center and Morgan Library as well as the new on-campus football stadium, which he has visited with his wife and two daughters.  

“I’ve been to all of the games so far,” he said. “One of the exciting things about coming back to my alma mater is my family, and I wanted to experience what it would be like to have season tickets and go and experience football games. We’re having a lot of fun with that.”  

In the Military Science Building, Johnson is in good company. CSU Army ROTC Commander Lt. Col. Matthew Tillman, also a graduate of CSU, is Johnson’s neighbor on the first floor. Johnson said that he plans to collaborate with Tillman to help mentor and produce the next generation of great military leaders — a result that has remained a constant at CSU.  

“I can’t brag enough about the cadets,” Johnson said. “They’re great students. They’re great future leaders, and I want people who may not be familiar with the ROTC program to know that they’re sitting next to some incredible people.”