Lieutenant General Michelle Johnson has been named as the 19th person to lead the Air Force Academy. A three-star general, she is the first woman to serve as superintendent. Johnson, who will replace Lt. General Michael Gould, has always been a trailblazer. She entered the Air Force Academy in 1977, just one year after female cadets were admitted.
Johnson recalls that the environment was quite hostile with resentment coming from fellow cadets as well as from Academy staff. She was more determined than deterred. Under significant pressure, some women did leave the Academy. Johnson graduated in 1981. She further distinguished herself by becoming the Academy’s first female Rhodes Scholar and a cadet wing commander.
Lieutenant General Johnson takes the helm at a difficult time in the history of the Academy. Reports of sexual assault in the military have grown significantly in the last several months. Changing the underlying culture, which encourages these assaults will be challenging. By all accounts Johnson is up for the job. Those who know her experience her as confident, focused and fearless. In her 20’s Johnson commanded men nearly twice her age.
A command pilot with more than 3,600 flight hours, Johnson has also served the academy as an instructor pilot. Other assignments include her role as deputy director for information and cyberspace policy at the Joint Staff in Washington and director of strategy, policy, programs and logistics for U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base.
Johnson has also served her Alma Mater as professor of political science. In 1991, she was recognized as the Academy’s most outstanding scholar-athlete. The honor was well earned. Johnson played varsity basketball as an Academy cadet and is the second highest all-time high scorer for the women’s team. In 2007 she became the first woman to be inducted into the Academic All American Hall of Fame. Johnson holds masters degrees in politics and economics as well as in national security strategy.
Lt. Johnson acknowledges that she faced sexual harassment in the Academy. Her direct experience with the inner workings of the Academy as well as with the problem of harassment should help her bring and foster the required sensitivity, accountability and fundamental attitude shifts to arrive at a meaningful solution.