National sports program features female general

  • Published
A female Air Force general will be one of the people featured during an episode of CBS Sports Spectacular titled Pride, Passion and Power.  The show will air  Jan. 19 from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. EST. 

Brig. Gen. Michelle Johnson, the deputy director of the Joint Staff's War on Terrorism, Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate here at the Pentagon, earned the honor due to her accomplishments as an outstanding basketball player and cadet at the Air Force Academy and her subsequent success as an Air Force officer.

"Fortunately, friends of mine broke it to me that I'd been considered for this national feature," said the 1981 Academy graduate who also completed graduate studies as a Rhodes Scholar before earning her pilot wings in 1984. "My first reaction was 'why me.' Then I thought about it, and the title of this show is pride, passion and power, and those are intangibles that are important to us every day."

General Johnson has quite a list of accomplishments. She was the Academy's first female cadet wing commander and is the only female inaugural member of the academy's Athletic Hall of Fame for her talents on the basketball court.

It's that early success in the sports arena that taught General Johnson the skills and lessons that propelled her to be successful off the court, too.

"There are some real continuing themes that go into team sports," she said. "It comes down to the fire inside. Talent alone doesn't do it. It's the teamwork. The fire in the belly. The desire to win, and the intensity and perseverance. Those qualities are universal. The Air Force is a giant team. That's what it is all about."

After graduating from the Academy, General Johnson went on to become one of only 61 female officers to attain rank of general officer in the Air Force. She's served in various assignments in air mobility, airlift and tanker flying operations and training, academic instruction and personnel. She is a command pilot with more than 3,600 flying hours in the C-141 Starlifter, T-41 Mescalero, KC-10 Extender, C-17 Globemaster III, C-5 Galaxy and KC-135 Stratotanker.

She also served as an aide to presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and has commanded a deployed air refueling squadron during Operation Southern Watch and an air refueling wing in support of operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

All of this led to General Johnson's appearance on the upcoming show, and while she's curious to see how it turns out, she said she hopes her part sheds light on the Air Force as a whole.

"The trick is, I'm an Airman like any other," she said. "I'm not accustomed to that sort of coverage, not comfortable with it. But for the last few years, our leaders have been thinking a lot, how every Airman's story is the Air Force story. If we can share our (Air Force) family story in this venue, maybe that helps explain the Air Force story a little more. We have more to us than our rank or our badges."

More than anything, she said, she appreciates how her Air Force story, a mix of athletic and military accomplishment, emphasizes the message of teamwork, and how that lesson applies to both areas.

"I think about truly honest moments (when playing sports), when you are running wind sprints next to a teammate and you know they hurt as bad as you do, yet they keep going, so you keep going, you give it your all to do your very best. It's all about being part of a team." 

Comment on this story   (comments may be published on Air Force Link)

View the comments/letters page