First woman superintendent takes command at Air Force Academy

By TOM ROEDER | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Published: August 12, 2013

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — It was one of the military's last glass ceilings, but the Air Force Academy's new superintendent isn't making much noise as she shatters it.

Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson said becoming the first woman to lead the academy is just another confirmation of the greatness of the country she serves.

"It's a very American experience," said Johnson, the school's 19th superintendent.

Johnson took command of the academy amid pomp and ceremony Monday morning, replacing retiring Lt. Gen. Michael Gould.

A 1981 graduate of the academy, Johnson remains in lore as one of the top female athletes to ever play there. She remains the second all-time leading scorer for the women's basketball team.

She rode her academy degree to Oxford Englandf or a master's in politics and economics as a Rhodes Scholar and has climbed steadily through the Air Force ranks while logging 3,600 hours at the controls of tanker aircraft and transport planes.

She came to the academy from her post at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, where she served as its top planner for operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo.

She's hoping to turn that experience into lessons for cadets on how America works with its allies in modern wars.

In a speech to a crowd of brass and the school's 4,000 cadets, Johnson said she wants cadets to understand the global influence of the Air Force and to understand that its capabilities are balanced on the shoulders of sergeants and airmen.

"We as officers really have to be on our game to lead them the way they deserve," she said.

Much of the ceremony was spent heaping praise on the man Johnson replaced.

Gould was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his four years at the academy, and the Air Force's top general choked up while describing the outgoing superintendent.

"He loves the people he leads and he stands for something," Gen. Mark Welsh said of Gould.

During his speech, Welsh pardoned cadets in trouble for minor infractions and regulatory breaches.

"You major offenders are still screwed," he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Johnson, though, has no immediate plans for the cadets. She attended the academy and later taught there, but said she needs to reconnect with the place before shaking things up.

"I have a lot of listening to do and a lot of learning to do," she said.

While her taking command as the academy's first female superintendent is a landmark, it's not one that Johnson is likely going to memorialize.

"We're not dwelling on it," she said.

Instead, she says that America's willingness to blaze new trails and give everyone a shot at greatness is what people should remember about a woman taking the helm.

"I was very blessed to be born where I was and when I was," she said.

Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, right, accepts the guidon from Gen. Mark Welsh during the Academy Superintendent Change of Command ceremony Aug. 12, 2013.


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