WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --
Like many women with a goal and a desire for upward career mobility, one U.S. Air National Guard leader has mastered the art of viewing any assigned task as an opportunity.
Maj. Gen. Wendy K. Johnson, Air National Guard Assistant to the Air Force Materiel Command Commander, began her career in 1984 as a ‘slick sleeve,’ 18-year-old Airman, with hopes of leveraging a G.I. Bill education into an elementary school teaching certificate.
Being from a small town and not having family members who attended college, Johnson was not aware of a large number of career options.
“I knew about teachers, so from a very young child of five, I recall wanting to be a teacher,” said Johnson.
While pursuing a career which ebbed and flowed, making unexpected turns, Johnson realized the importance of moving forward, toward something. When speaking of positions held through the years, she spoke of unexpected changes by saying each ‘ultimately led to’ something more.
“One summer early in my career with the Guard, I worked as a temporary government service, GS-4 employee, which ultimately led to a fulltime position as a Nebraska state employee working for the Military Department,” said Johnson.
While working for the ANG, then Staff Sgt. Johnson’s commander and mentor encouraged her to pursue a commission. She explained she did not have her degree and would not qualify.
“All elementary education classes were taught during the day in the late 1980s, and I would have had to take off work to go back to school,” said Johnson.
As a state employee of the Nebraska Military Department, Johnson’s commander allowed her to work modified hours and fill-in on weekends, so classes could be taken during the day.
While working on her education degree, Johnson was selected for a commissioning opportunity as the base education officer. The program allowed Guardsmen to be commissioned if they had at least 60 college credit hours and a degree completion date within seven years of commissioning.
“My commander’s leadership and mentoring approach emphasized making every effort to remove any barriers he could to helping his workers be successful,” said Johnson. “So, I was commissioned before completing my degree”.
Over time, Johnson realized that the Guard employs civil servants as Dual Status Technicians. DSTs are Excepted Service employees who also have a “compatible military position” in the Air National Guard.
In 1994, Johnson applied for a DST position as a Logistics Officer. The civil service position title was “Logistics Officer,” and the compatible military position was “Logistics Plans Officer.”
“Being accepted as a DST allowed pairing my Air Guard logistics position with my civilian service logistics position in a dual manner. Finding two similar positions allowed me to do both,” said Johnson.
Johnson worked as a DST until 2016 when she was promoted to the rank of brigadier general.
“There were no compatible military positions in Nebraska, so when I promoted on the military side, I was no longer qualified to hold a DST position. So, I retired from civil service, but continued serving in the Air National Guard,” said Johnson.
Johnson admits a specific leadership position was not the driving force during her career. Instead, each new task or challenge was embraced as a chance to learn something new.
“When mentoring and speaking to those under my command, I share how opportunities build on each other,” said Johnson.
Johnson went on to explain that even extra-duty jobs can be valuable for qualifying for future positions.
“Do your best at whatever the new challenge. The new accomplishments add to your experience set,” said Johnson.
As an Air National Guard leader at AFMC, Johnson is exploring new depths. She has led in unit commands and in the deployed arena, but stepping into a leadership position at AFMC headquarters requires taking her own advice, and embracing the learning potential the new position offers.
As leaders, Johnson recommends taking a concerted, thoughtful approach to removing whatever barriers possible to set Airmen, women and others up for success.
When asked if she was a mentor or had benefitted from mentorship, Johnson responded,
“I am a mentor, though I don’t have any formal mentorships in place right now. However, I am frequently asked if I have ‘a few minutes’ to discuss career goals or give advice. I enjoy these types of engagements.”
The need for a diverse group of Airmen was emphasized by Johnson as important for the Air Force to grow, develop and compete.
“People see things differently and have different mindsets. A diverse group finds better solutions, and can get ‘there’ more quickly,” said Johnson.
Johnson observed that either being mentored or serving as mentor has been the catalyst for change throughout her career.
“It was impactful that a commander helped me take a step forward. He saw something in me which gave me the courage to seize the opportunity and not be afraid,” said Johnson.