Keeter, Pearl pass on their Johnson family legacy at China Lake

Keeter, Pearl pass on their Johnson  family legacy at China LakeCamie Keeter and her son, Gavin Fielder, are pictured with Camie’s parents, William and Betty Johnson, in a family photo from 1989. — Courtesy photo



NAWCWD Public Affairs

Though the last name Johnson is common at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, the Keeter and Pearl families have helped keep their particular Johnson lineage pumping through China Lake’s veins. In honor of China Lake’s upcoming 75th anniversary, active employees on this family tree shared their stories.

Camie Keeter, a financial analyst supporting the Lead Business Systems Integration Enterprise Team at China Lake, is a third-generation relative of Ronald “Lester” Johnson, who worked in high voltage in the early 1970s. Both of Camie’s parents, William and Betty Johnson, worked at China Lake along with her uncle, Edmond Johnson.

“I feel extremely proud of China Lake, my family and the legacy to which I have contributed,” Camie said. “I have early childhood memories of the community both on and off the base. It’s fun to know some of the history and have that sense of incredible connection to a community. There’s a ‘connectedness’ about our community that I think can only exist in a small town.”

She described a vivid memory of when she was around age 6 and she and her sisters visited their dad in the anechoic chamber in Thompson Laboratory, standing on the platform yelling “hello!” at the top of their lungs and feeling like they were on a new planet. She also spoke of a photo of her sitting on her dad’s shoulders at the airfield when President John F. Kennedy visited China Lake.

“I love the conversations that have taken place at my dinner table,” she said. “My husband’s experience as a hiring manager and a technical project office lead, my background with the business side of WD and my son’s experiences as a contractor and now member of the Engineer and Scientist Development Program, make for interesting and lively conversations. I remember having similar ones with my parents when I first started working.”

Michael Keeter, Camie’s husband and the command program technical coordinator, was recruited by China Lake while at Michigan State University.

In his nearly 35 years of working at NAWCWD, Michael said, he appreciates the flexibility he has had to try different work, the ability to develop skills and find his own “sweet spot” in technical and leadership arenas along with seeing products that he’s worked on used and appreciated by the fleet.

“It’s gratifying that, between my experiences and my wife’s over the years, our sons feel welcome and even excited about a possible career here,” Michael said.

“It is neat to experience relationships that extend from the workplace to the local churches, neighborhoods and other community venues. Even though we can’t discuss much about work outside the gate, the trust, friendship and respect we have for each other does carry over.”

In addition to Michael, Camie’s cousin, Polly Pearl, and her husband, Ron, are active employees at China Lake. Edmond Johnson’s grandson Brandon, Camie’s nephew Ben Johnson, as well as her and Michael’s son, Elliott Keeter, are currently working at China Lake.

“I feel proud knowing that I have so many family members who have worked and still work here,” said Polly, who supports the Technical Communication Office. “My dad, Edmond, was never able to serve our country in the military — and that bothered him — but, he was very active in the Civil Air Patrol and helped with searches and rescues. He instilled in me the many ways to support our military without being in a branch of service, and one of those ways was working on base here at China Lake.”

Ron Pearl, who supports the base as an optical tracking mount operator for the Instrumentation Optical Tracking Group, echoes the sentiment of proudly supporting the warfighter, as did his father Duane Pearl. One of Ron’s fondest memories was of filming the landing of the space shuttle at Edwards Air Force Base. Ron has often said of his job, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this!”

According to fourth-generation employee, Elliott, this work is in his blood, and he considers the nation’s defense “the family business.” Of those in his family who haven’t worked at China Lake, he said, many have served active duty through sectors such as the Marines, U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Corps while others have found their way back to the defense industry in one way or another.

“These hallowed halls have seen now nearly 75 years of work to defend these United States,” Elliott said. “How many engineers have walked down these halls? How many warfighters’ lives have been saved because of what we do? I enjoy walking around the hallways of the various laboratories because I know how vitally important this work is and that I go to work to make sure our warfighters can go home safely.”

Camie and Michael’s son, Gavin Fielder, also expects to join the China Lake team and continue his family’s legacy this spring.

“It’s amazing to me to think of the impact that my family has had and will continue to have for the Navy,” Camie said.

“I’m super excited that my sons are looking at the beginning of a career here because they are both incredibly smart and will make a difference — same as their parents, and my parents!

“It’s a great place for an interesting career if you can handle the heat and wind of the desert. The opportunities are amazing.”

Story First Published: 2018-06-15