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Duluth judge to lead Marine graduates

Judge David Johnson talks to each of the graduates of the South St. Louis County Drug Court Friday afternoon, Oct. 6, 2017, during a special ceremony honoring the graduates. Bob King / Forum News Service

DULUTH — Thirty years ago, David Johnson was stationed at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, commanding drill instructors responsible for the training of new recruits.

On Friday, Oct. 6, the Duluth judge and retired colonel is returning to his old base with a special duty. He will lead the graduation ceremony for more than 300 of the country's newest Marines.

"It's kind of fun to come back, since I retired seven years ago, and put the uniform on again," Johnson recently said. "It was really nice of them to do that."

The honor came about through another community service hat Johnson wears: Boy Scout leader. Among the Marine Corps graduating class is Sean Carlson, a 2017 Duluth East graduate who attained the rank of Eagle Scout under Johnson's leadership.

Johnson said he talked his wife into taking a vacation to San Diego to attend Carlson's graduation. When he contacted the depot's protocol officer to make reservations, Brigadier General William Jurney extended the offer for Johnson to serve as the parade reviewing officer for the ceremony.

A parade reviewing officer is a "distinguished service member or civilian" who attends the graduation as a guest of the commanding general and is recognized throughout the day's ceremonies.

During the 90-minute ceremony, Johnson will be announced, give a march command and salute each formation before dismissing the platoons.

Johnson wasn't sure how many graduates would be among the class, but said a ceremony typically includes about eight platoons of at least 40 recruits. He said he was happy to be asked, noting that the ceremony is a festive occasion for the new recruits and their families.

"A lot of parents come out for it," Johnson said. "They haven't seen their kids for three months, so it's a chance to reunite."

San Diego is one of two depots for basic training in the Marines; it handles all new male recruits from an area generally west of the Mississippi River. The boot camp is a 12-week program; Carlson's class started training in early July.

Johnson, who joined the Marines in 1983 and served on active duty until 1995, knows the training program well. Among his assignments was a stint as a commander at the base, supervising 18 drill instructors responsible for the training of more than 1,300 recruits.

Johnson became a St. Louis County prosecutor while continuing to serve in the Marine Reserves and was activated following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — serving another 3½ years on active duty.

His assignments included time on a Pentagon team established to prepare for and prevent further attacks, a six-month stint searching for evidence at a former al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and investigating suspected terrorists being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In 2006, shortly after his return to Duluth, Gov. Tim Pawlenty named Johnson to the bench. He served another stint at the Pentagon in 2008 before retiring from a 27-year career with the Marines in 2010.