Vice Adm. John G. Cotton graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy in June 1973 with a degree in Aerospace Engineering. Earning his wings in October 1974, he became a third generation pilot as his father is a Naval Aviator and his grandfather flew with the Lafayette Flying Corps in World War I. Forward deployed to Japan aboard USS Midway (CV-41) from 1975-1978, he flew the A-7 Corsair II with Attack Squadron (VA) 93, and then served on the Commander Light Attack Wing U.S. Pacific Fleet staff at Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif. from 1978-1980.
Becoming a commercial airline pilot and a Navy Reservist in 1980, he flew with VA-2082, the A-7B augment unit at NAS New Orleans, and with the Navy's last RF-8G Crusader squadrons, Light Photographic Squadron (VFP) 306 and VFP-206 at Naval Air Facility Washington, D.C. He commanded VA-2082 in 1988-1989, and then joined VA-204 in New Orleans, completing FA-18 Hornet strike fighter and adversary pilot transition training. While in command of the VFA-204 "River Rattlers" from July 1993 to September 1994, the squadron received the 1993 Chief of Naval Operations’ Safety "S" Award completing 13 years of major mishap free operations, the 1994 Battle "E" and F. Trubee Davison Award as the top tactical Navy Reserve squadron, and a CNO Meritorious Unit Commendation. From 1994-1997, he commanded the NAS Keflavik unit at NAF Washington, the Navy Command Center unit at the Pentagon, and also served as an instructor at the Command Leadership School at Naval Education and Training Command Newport, R.I.
Vice Adm. Cotton's initial flag assignment was Deputy Commander, Naval Air Force U.S. Atlantic Fleet, 1997-1999, and was recalled to active duty as Deputy Commander, Joint Task Force Southwest Asia, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, supporting Operation Southern Watch. At the Pentagon 1999-2003, he was again recalled to active duty as Deputy Director of Navy Reserve, served as Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations Warfare Requirements and Programs, and was a member of the SECDEF Reserve Forces Policy Board. Following Senate confirmation in October 2003, Vice Adm. Cotton served as Chief of Navy Reserve and Commander Navy Reserve Force until August 2008.
Personal awards include the Navy Distinguished Service, Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service, Meritorious Service, Navy Commendation and Achievement Medals. He has over 15,000 hours of military and commercial flight time, and is a graduate of Executive and Reserve Component programs at the Naval War College, Army War College, Naval Postgraduate School, National Defense University, Harvard University, MIT and UNC Chapel Hill.