Lieutenant General Michelle Johnson – Flag for Hope Star #42

Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy
Location of Impression: Penrose Heritage Museum – El Pomar Foundation, Colorado Springs, CO
Date of Flag for Hope Star Impression: June 18, 2016


Lt. General Michelle Johnson is the Superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy. She is the first woman to hold this post and the first woman to ever lead a United States Department of Defense Service Academy.

The entrance the U.S. Air Force Academy bears the words: “Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.” For Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, the mantra is a daily reminder of her sizeable and solemn mission.

The Air Force Academy is a sprawling campus with nearly 4,000 cadets and one of the most selective academic institutions in the country. It operates like a conventional university, with an extensive core curriculum, a NCAA Division I athletic program, dormitories, cafeterias and intramural sports.

However, unlike colleges across the country, it has the weighty task of preparing students to lead the armed forces, face combat and, possibly, sacrifice their lives for their country. Thus, Johnson keeps faculty, staff, parents and the community focused on training and inspiring the next generation of world leaders for times of war, as well as peace.

Lt. Gen Michelle D. Johnson Flag for Hope Star

Lt. Gen Michelle D. Johnson Flag for Hope Star


Air Force Career

The 1981 Academy graduate’s experience with the institution is marked by historical “firsts.” Lt. General Johnson was the first woman to serve as Cadet Wing Commander at the Academy. A standout basketball player and two-time All-American during her time as a cadet, Johnson in 2007 was inducted into the Academic All-American Hall of Fame, making her the first woman from the Academy and one of only six graduates with that distinction.

She was selected as the Academy’s first woman Rhodes Scholar and went on to graduate from Oxford University in England. In 2013, she became the 19th superintendent of the Academy and the first woman to hold that post.

Now, as superintendent, Johnson’s vision is focused forward as she works to keep the institution relevant by modernizing its facilities and curriculum despite budgetary challenges. She also tackles delicate issues like gender equality, diversified recruitment, and religious freedoms.

Prior to becoming superintendent at the Academy, Johnson’s military career involved logging more than 3,600 hours while flying air mobility and air refueling planes, and serving as an aircraft instructor. Her command assignments included Transport Command at Scott Air Force Base, as well as air refueling units in support of operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Johnson then went on to serve in the Pentagon and as the Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations and Intelligence, at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Awards and Decorations

Along the way, Johnson earned numerous major awards and decorations such as the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, Aerial Achievement Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Southwest Asia Service Medal, and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

Today she created her star on the Flag for Hope at the El Pomar Carriage Museum that lies in the shadows of Colorado Spring’s Pikes Peak, where Katherine Lee Bates famously drafted “America the Beautiful” after climbing the 14,000-foot summit.

What the Flag Means to Her

“It’s about a place! It’s about America,” Johnson said of the Flag for Hope.

The general, who describes herself as the “daughter of a farmer in Iowa,” credits our country for giving her the chance to live the American dream.

The U.S. flag represents the American ideals of freedom and opportunity, as well as her comrades who defended them with their lives, she said.

“Remember what we stand for. Remember those ideas. Remember those people that this flag represents, and help us be true to that,” Johnson said.