Air Force Academy Gets First Female Superintendent

Lieutenant General Michelle Johnson will be the first woman to lead a service academy.

michelle-johnson

Lieutenant General Michelle Johnson will be the first female superintendent at the Air Force Academy–and the first woman to lead any of the service academies.

Denver Post (“Air Force Academy’s First Female Supervisor Takes Command Monday“):

The U.S. Air Force Academy’s first female cadet wing commander and its first female Rhodes Scholar on Monday will become the academy’s first female supervisor.

Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, a 1981 graduate of the academy near Colorado Springs, was formerly the deputy chief of staff for operations and intelligence at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe at NATO headquarters in Casteau, Belgium.

She replaces Lt. Gen. Michael C. Gould, the superintendent since June 2009 who is retiring Tuesday after 37 years in the Air Force, the academy stated.

A native of Spencer, Iowa, Johnson also played basketball at the academy and is second all-time in scoring for the women’s team with 1,706 points. She was a two-time academic all-American and was inducted into the Academic All-American Hall of Fame in 1996.

Johnson is a command pilot with more than 3,600 hours in a variety of aircraft. She served as an Air Force aide to President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton.

She also has been the director of personnel for the Air Mobility Command and director of Air Force Public Affairs, according to a statement this weekend from the academy.

This is a historic choice and an important symbol, especially given the problems that the armed forces in general and the Air Force Academy in particular have had with sexual assault and gender issues.

Recall that the Class of 1980 was the first in each of the three service academies with female graduates. Resistance to the presence of women was fierce, with at least one superintendent resigning in protest. Indeed, the atmosphere within the Corps of Cadets at West Point was still toxic when I arrived in 1984; hell, I contributed to it. We’ve thankfully come a long way over the past three decades but, as recent events have shown, not far enough.

Johnson’s credentials are impressive, indeed. To have excelled in all phases—leadership, academics, and athletics—as a cadet, especially with the pressures women faced at that time is truly remarkable. And, certainly, her achievements in the Air Force since have been stellar.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Military Affairs
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Franklin says:

    Indeed, the atmosphere within the Corps of Cadets at West Point was still toxic when I arrived in 1984; hell, I contributed to it.

    snort!

  2. Butch Bracknell says:

    I had good money on Susan Helms.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Butch Bracknell: Both superstars. I think the Herrara clemency doomed her in the current sexual harrassment climate. Plus, Supe is a career ender most of the time. Helms may have another star in her future.

  4. DC Loser says:

    Helms is probably shooting for the AF Space Command spot.

  5. Indeed, the atmosphere within the Corps of Cadets at West Point was still toxic when I arrived in 1984; hell, I contributed to it. We’ve thankfully come a long way over the past three decades but, as recent events have shown, not far enough.

    Indeed, since you apparently still feel it appropriate to describe a past history of harassing women in a rather flippant manner as though it were some big joke.

  6. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    Me, I’m looking forward to when we can get our LGBTxyz ticket punched (or did we?). That’ll have the muslims tearing the towels off their heads and throwing them in for sure.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I’m not treating it as a joke at all. I merely note that I was very much part of the culture that existed at the time.

    The atmosphere which existed then wasn’t so much one of sexual harassment but rather both a visceral sense that women did not belong at the academy and that the women who were there were barely women at all. That’s toxic as hell but a different problem that what exists now. Indeed, I don’t recall abuse being leveled at the women directly; if anything, they were treated with kid gloves compared to the men.

  8. @James Joyner:

    Well, their certainly didn’t seem to be any hint of regret or remorse expressed.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I’m not sure what the point is of regretting having typical opinions for one’s culture as a teenager 29 years ago. The piece is supportive of the choice and the need to further change the culture.

  10. @James Joyner:

    Because if people inside the culture don’t ever regret their typical opinions, than the culture doesn’t change.

  11. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: But the culture is indeed changing and I’ve changed. I’m not the same person at 47 as I was at 17, but I don’t have a lot of regrets about who I was at 17.

  12. @James Joyner:

    If you don’t have regrets about who you were at 17, then why did you change? Did you ever conciously decide “it’s wrong to behave that way”, or have you just been going with the flow?

    Suppose the pendulum were to start swinging the other way and when you’re 77 the culture was pretty much back to being the same way it was when you’re 17. What you go back with it, or would you be saying “this is wrong, we shouldn’t be behaving this way”?

  13. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: What I believed at 17 was based on my limited life experience and the shared values passed on by the existing culture. At lot of what seemed obviously true then turned out not to be. So, I changed my views.

  14. Franklin says:

    Wow, someone is awfully judgmental. Only SD would be mad that somebody changed for the better.

  15. sFortna says:

    Wasn’t…….First female to lead an Academy at The US Coast Guard Academy! Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz??

  16. Mikey says:

    @Stormy Dragon: How many decades are we required to “regret” stupid things we believed when we were 17?

    Seems to me “I was 17 and it’s a pretty stupid age, all things considered” is more than enough, if we’ve actually grown up and out of the opinions we held then.

    And if we haven’t, well, there wouldn’t be much point in even discussing it, would there?

    Personally, many of the opinions I held when I was 17 don’t merit regret nearly as much as they do an eye-roll and “Damn, I was silly back then.”

  17. James Joyner says:

    @sFortna: I don’t consider the Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security and was previously part of the Department of Transportation, to be one of the services.

  18. @Mikey:

    To the extent those stupid things led you to actively harming other people, I’d say forever.

    Let’s be clear here: Joyner admits that when he was at the academy, there was an culture that intentionally created a hostile environment for all of the female cadets and that he personally participated in creating that environment. Now while I understand why being imersed in a bad culture often makes it hard to objectively evaluate your own actions, but the fact is he wronged those women. That fact he apparently doesn’t regret this now that he can look at those actions more objectively is kinda disappointing.

    And I’m not saying he ought to go around constantly bemoaning past mistakes, but neither should he just shrug it off as “oh well, that’s the way things were back then, it makes no difference to me now”.

    Especially given he just announced he’s soon going to be responsible for training the next generation of military leaders. What’s his lesson to them going to be? “Don’t bother trying to push back against (or even notice) the negative aspects of the organizational cultures you may find yourself in. Real leadership is just doing what everyone else does and then not caring who it hurts later on.”

  19. @James Joyner:

    don’t consider the Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security and was previously part of the Department of Transportation, to be one of the services.

    10 USC 101 begs to differ:

    (4)The term “armed forces” means the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

  20. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I have great respect for the Coast Guard and what they do. In peacetime, they have a real world mission in a way that the military services don’t. But they haven’t been part of the armed forces since my parents were in diapers. Thinking of them as part of the military is an anachronism of World War II–at which point the Merchant Marine were also a subordinate wing of the United States Navy.

  21. Mikey says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    To the extent those stupid things led you to actively harming other people, I’d say forever.

    Forever’s a pretty long time to hang on to regret. Much better to move from regret to action and work to undo whatever harm was done, isn’t it? Regret is easy; action is hard.

    And I’m not saying he ought to go around constantly bemoaning past mistakes, but neither should he just shrug it off as “oh well, that’s the way things were back then, it makes no difference to me now”.

    I don’t see that in anything he’s written in this post or the comments.

  22. @James Joyner:

    But they haven’t been part of the armed forces since my parents were in diapers.

    Except they’re part of the armed forces right now. I just pointed you to the law that defines what the armed forces are. You may not think they deserve to be included, but they are.

  23. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Right. The Coast Guard isn’t part of the military but it’s technically considered part of the armed services. It’s also, along with the military services, the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps, a uniformed service. For that matter, the Coast Guard Academy and Merchant Marine Academy are service academies along with the three military academies.

    Nonetheless, those at the Military, Naval, and Air Force academies hold a unique relationship to one another and don’t consider the others part of the same fraternity. Similarly, those serving in the military don’t consider the Coast Guard to be a sister service. It’s not a matter of respect–most of us hold the Coast Guard in high regard–it’s just a matter of way of life, chain of command, etc.