Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson formally assumed command as the new superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, becoming the first woman to lead the 59-year-old institution.
Johnson told a crowd of hundreds of guests, staff, and cadets at the academy’s Change of Command Ceremony that she will lead cadets through the challenges facing the academy.
“We’ll inevitably face challenges,” Johnson said in her remarks. “It won’t be easy, but we can find meaning in adversity, and there are lessons from overcoming negative experiences and to grow stronger through them.”
Johnson’s command of a leading service academy marks a progressive era for a school that breeds future military leaders. The military’s reputation has been marred in recent months by a string of sexual assault incidents within its ranks. Most recently, Air Force Academy Cadet Jamil Cooks was dismissed after his April conviction on a charge of abusive sexual conduct after he pleaded guilty to the unlawful entry into the rooms of two female cadets. Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, who led the Air Force’s branch of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, was charged with sexual battery in early May.
In 2003, dozens of female academy cadets reported that they had been sexually assaulted by fellow cadets, but academy staff and officials were later accused of ignoring or downplaying their reports, which led to congressional hearings.
A 1981 graduate of the academy, Johnson was the academy’s first female cadet wing commander and the school’s first female Rhodes scholar earning a master’s degree in politics and economics. She comes to the academy after serving as a top NATO chief. She is a command pilot with more than 3,600 flight hours in large cargo planes and refueling tankers.
With her new post, Johnson has been nominated for promotion to lieutenant general, the customary rank for academy superintendent.
Johnson is the second woman appointed to command a service academy, after Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz became superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy in 2011. Johnson takes over for Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, a 1976 graduate who is set to retire from his post of four years in October.
Johnson said she was “honored, grateful and very happy” to be the academy’s 19th superintendent.