Those of you who have had the pleasure of watching Chief Master Sgt. Johnson speak over the last two years of her final command chief tour at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base may already know where I’m going with this piece.
Before I get to the “jump,” it is worth painting a better picture for those who do not get to see Chief Johnson as often as I do, as a member of the wing staff leadership team. Due to her position, her office is located just upstairs from mine. This provides me plenty of “hallway hellos” and chances to witness the awesomeness of chief’s everyday affairs.
She never misses an opportunity to engage our Airmen or promote the wing’s mission to our community partners, all while eating a healthy, homemade, multigrain, 100%-of-your-daily-everything pancake with a smile on her face. She rises early to get an intense workout in before the marathon schedule of appointments each day, and she rarely misses a beat due to the impact she can have on the Air Force’s greatest assets – the Airmen.
Chief Johnson’s unwavering gratitude to and for our Airmen is one of her trademarks. However, her gratitude doesn’t stop at the service member; it extends to the full circle of family and friends who support the Airman. Now, if anyone else wanted a visual representation of the support network for an Airman, they might form a circle with their hands or use their arms to make a really big circle. But that’s not enough for chief.
She is someone who doesn’t do anything half-heartedly and invests her whole self in everything she does. So what does she do to represent the support network of an Airman? She jumps. There isn’t an event that goes on at Davis-Monthan AFB that chief isn’t part of in some way, and if you are lucky enough, you have witnessed her address the masses and seen her jump through an imaginary second dimension to express her gratitude to the secondary heroes present.
I first witnessed the jump when I arrived at D-M and attended the technical sergeant release party at Club Ironwood. As one of my first official base-wide events, I wasn’t sure how things would go. The newly selected tech sergeants were introduced to loud applause and cheers from the crowd, and the club staff hosted a worthy event. Eventually, chief got the mic and started to do her inspirational thing.
After 19 years of serving, I, more or less, knew what was going to be said until chief got about halfway into her prepared speech and literally took a small jump on stage. This celebration was not only about the new selects or their new positions, she explained, but the support of family and friends who enabled their continued successful service as well.
After this jump and a few laughs, chief’s passionate speech captured the crowd, and by the end, everyone wanted to call that special someone to tell them, “thanks for supporting my service.” The jump happened in a flash, and it wasn’t until the second time I saw it that I realized this was chief’s signature move, equivalent to Clark Kent running into a phone booth (Google it if you don’t know what a phone booth is) and changing into Superman before saving the day.
Another jump happened when chief secured another $40,000 for Quality of Life projects for the Airmen in the wing, and wanted to come down to address some of the teammates who made it possible. She let me know she was coming down to the squadron and when I brought her into the finance office to address the team working through various financial actions, she took the chance to maximize the opportunity.
She spoke to them like a fellow Airman with an appreciation for their service and highlighted the impact of what they do for the broader mission. Then it happened; she took a small jump and spoke about the influence of family and friends on each person in the office. She made it not about them or her, but about the people who support us each day.
I could see the change in my Airmen’s eyes. After witnessing the jump, they understood the emotional buy that chief was talking about. Serving America in the Air Force is a tremendous honor, but it can only be done with continued encouragement from the support network around us. Having a command chief who never lets us forget that makes us more resilient Airmen in the readiest wing in the Air Force.
Chief also projected this message during our weekly wing meetings. In one specific instance, the wing was in a preparatory meeting to support Army personnel coming to the installation. This was going to be a heavy lift for the wing and would require a substantial commitment of resources, including extended hours to support nearly 2,000 soldiers supporting border operations. At the end of the meeting, Col. (Michael) Drowley, (355th Wing commander) turned it over to chief for comments as he usually does. She quickly refocused the commanders in the room to the impacts of this effort on our Airmen.
She spoke about the principles of being a good wingman and how we cannot lose focus on the health and well-being of our Airmen. Then it happened. While she did not get up out of her chair and jump, she did adjust her chair with a quick pull forward – a “chair jump” – and reminded the leadership team about the impact of these extended hours on our Airmen’s support network. She emphasized that the heavy lifting was not just done by the wing, but by the family members who support the Airmen in each organization as well. Her comments paved the way to put in place a support mechanism for the newly assigned Soldiers spending the holidays away from their families, as well as extended hours for support networks on base for all personnel. Her determination to never forget about these support networks enabled Davis-Monthan AFB’s incredible success in this effort.
As chief prepares for her transition into retirement, I hope she realizes the impact she’s had on each Airman she came in contact with. Whether it was a brief interaction at Club Ironwood, a staff meeting chair adjustment, a greeting in the hallway or a quick stop-in to say thank you, chief always jump-started the message and connected the topic at hand to the people who mattered most. As I look back on this brief period in my service, I can’t help but think of her ability to address the largest of crowds or an individual Airman as a model I will carry throughout my life.
Chief Johnson was born to be a command chief, and her interactions-based mentorship is a classic example of that fact. Her talents are not simply a product of professional military education or individual achievements. They stem from her belief that the Airmen in the wing are not there to serve her, but instead that she is serving alongside family and friends and never wants us to forget the way she feels about us. Safe travels, chief.