Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson takes command of the Air Force Academy from Lt. Gen. Michael Gould.
Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson takes command of the Air Force Academy from Chief of the Air Force, Gen. Mark Welsh.

Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson took command of the Air Force Academy on Monday during a ceremony filled with both emotion and enthusiasm.

Johnson, a 1981 AFA graduate, said she didn’t dwell on the fact that she was the first woman superintendent of the Academy, but believed her experience would serve her well.

“I have joint experience, and that, in part, shows how the military is changing,” she said. “But it also lets us know how we’re viewed by other people, and it makes me more aware of what it is to be an airman, how important we are.”

Johnson returned to the Academy after serving as deputy chief of staff of operations and intelligence of the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Powers in Europe, a NATO position.

“At NATO, there aren’t a lot of women leaders,” she said. “And that’s one of the things that sets America apart. I’m very lucky to be born when I was, where I was.”

Johnson believes she brings a wealth of experience to the Academy that will aid cadets in becoming the next generation of leaders.

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“I’m going to do things differently than Gen. (Michael) Gould,” she said of her predecessor. “We’re different humans. But first, I’m going to listen and learn. I realize that this is not 1977 (when she entered the Academy) or 1981 (when she graduated). Even my teaching time here is dated. I have a lot of listening and learning so we can go forward together.”

And while Johnson and her family – she’s married to a former Air Force officer and has twin boys – are settling in and greeting the community, Gen. Gould is saying goodbye to the facility he’s led for four years. Gould not only ended his command Monday, he also retired from the military, although his last official day is Oct. 1. Gould has more than 37 years in the Air Force since graduating from the Academy in 1976.

In a voice frequently choked with emotion, Gould said he felt good about leaving the Air Force now, in command of capable officers including his two sons.

“There have been Goulds in the Air Force since it started in 1947,” he said. “And I’m proud to say my family is continuing that tradition.”

Gould thanked the Air Force Academy’s staff.

“All the excellence that goes on here is due to the U.S. Air Force Academy staff and faculty,” he said. “They are exceptional leaders and they are creating leaders. All the cadets’ amazing accomplishments and potential accomplishments are due to the faculty here.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh oversaw the change of command ceremony, handing off the guidon from Gould to Johnson. An AFA classmate of Gould, he said he also had watched Johnson’s career. He told the gathered cadet wing that they had an excellent new leader in charge – remarking on Johnson’s early promotions to major, lieutenant colonel and colonel.

And he told Johnson: “These are the future leaders of the Air Force. I need you to lead them; I need you to inspire them; I need you to take care of them.”