Producing 'right lieutenant' is focus of 1st superintendent's call

Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson speaks to Airmen in Arnold Hall at the Air Force Academy Aug. 14, 2013, during her first superintendent's call. Johnson is the Academy's 19th superintendent and a command pilot with more than 3,600 flying hours. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sarah Chambers)

Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson speaks to Airmen in Arnold Hall at the Air Force Academy Aug. 14, 2013, during her first superintendent's call. Johnson is the Academy's 19th superintendent and a command pilot with more than 3,600 flying hours. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sarah Chambers)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson spoke in Arnold Hall Wednesday to let all Academy Airmen know their contributions to the nation and the Air Force are more than simply important.

Johnson, a command pilot with more than 3,600 flying hours, kicked off the introductory superintendent's call with a dose of humor and kept the tone conversational throughout the 35-minute presentation.

"Thank you for coming today -- I know I made you show up, but I appreciate you being here," she said to laughter from the audience. "This is just a chance to say 'hello' and tell you how good it feels to be here. I'm really excited to be here -- the energy is phenomenal."

Prior to arriving at the Academy, Johnson served as director of operations and intelligence at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, Belgium.

"While this experience gave me a perspective on U.S. and allied peacekeeping, counter-piracy and counterterrorism operations, it really brought home the amazing capabilities of Airmen and the importance of the Academy's mission to produce lieutenants for the Air Force," she said. "This is the Air Force's Academy and we develop lieutenants to serve in ways we need them to serve."

Academy Airmen must keep the larger Air Force mission at the forefront of their minds and consider how they prepare cadets for their larger responsibilities as commissioned officers, Johnson said.

The superintendent emphasized a recent conversation with Chief Master Sgt. Jeremy Hardy, superintendent of the Commandant of Cadets and pararescueman with combat experience and numerous deployments under his belt. Both leaders, she said, discussed the vital imperative of instilling a sense of warrior ethos in all cadets and Academy Airmen.

"When there's an emergency or you're flying a mission, shooting and being shot at, it completely concentrates the mind," Johnson said. "But sometimes when you're at a desk, that warrior ethos is hard to keep in mind."

A warrior ethos can combat cynicism and heighten professionalism, she said.

"We need this whole big machine to work," Johnson said. "We need every piece to click together because we're all mutually dependent. Even though we have disparate missions, we need all of our sophisticated elements to have a convergent focus and remember we're producing lieutenants for the Air Force and our nation. That might be hard to remember sometimes, but our larger purpose is always evident here and that's very exciting. We need to remember that we're role models for our cadets at all times."

Academy Airmen need to work toward achieving a unified goal, she said.

"We need smart people to compare viewpoints and keep focused on what 'right' looks like," she said. "Everyone at the Academy offers a voice worth listening to, whether they're academic instructors, air officers commanding, flying instructors, Athletic Department coaches or 10th Air Base Wing Airmen," Johnson said.

The superintendent said she is more than simply aware of the burden sequestration has placed on the Academy, the government and local community and the effect of recent natural disasters on the Academy community and vowed to act as the Academy's lead advocate to Air Staff, the Pentagon and Congress, she said.

"My promise to you is that I'll do my very best, and I just ask you to help us be the best as we produce lieutenants for the Air Force," she said.

Chief Master Sgt. Stephen Ludwig, the Academy's command chief, took the stage to encourage Airmen to submit their suggestions to improve and enhance the Academy's mission.

"Each of you has that impression, that picture of what you want the product to look like when they show up on that first day as a lieutenant," Ludwig said, referring to lieutenants who have graduated from the Academy. "That's the kind of thing the superintendent needs to hear to make sure we're creating the right lieutenant for our Air Force and that our product is something we can be proud of every graduation day."