February 05, 2014 News » Long Story Short

A problem of her own 

Long story short

More than a decade ago, female cadets found their way to Oprah Winfrey and told the nation about an Animal House atmosphere at the Air Force Academy that included drinking, brawling and sexual assault.

Their tales triggered an investigation and a sweeping "Agenda for Change" imposed by the Air Force secretary that made major ripples in cadet life. They also spawned a feeding frenzy among reporters from across the country, myself included.

At the time, there were serious talks about whether it was time to appoint, for the first time, a woman as superintendent.

Among those named as potential future academy commanders was Michelle Johnson, a colonel then serving as commander of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas. She sat behind Air Force Secretary James Roche at an academy event back then as a shining example of what an Air Force officer should be.

Now, 10 years later, Lt. Gen. Johnson is again the example. She took over as the academy's boss last summer and already has weathered several controversies. But her work is far from over.

Take a look, starting here, at how Johnson earned her stripes in a career that began by shooting baskets in a parking lot and has taken her to the most important office overlooking the academy's terrazzo, and how she's trying to cope with the academy's challenges now that she's in charge.


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