By Senior Airman Jamie Titus, Nebraska National Guard
/ Published January 08, 2021
Lincoln, NE -- Wendy Johnson, an Elba native, promoted to the rank of major general Jan. 5, 2021, at the Nebraska National Guard's Joint Force Headquarters in Lincoln, becoming the first female general officer in the Nebraska National Guard to pin on a second star.
Johnson, previously the assistant adjutant general – air for Nebraska, will take on a new assignment as the Air National Guard Assistant to Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. While she will remain a member of the Air National Guard, her unit of assignment will be the AFMC headquarters.
“I am a little sad to be leaving the Nebraska Air National Guard. It’s a little like how I felt going off to college; excited about the next phase of life, excited about the next phase in my career but knowing I’m closing a chapter that I treasure,” said Johnson. “It will always be my home, but much like once you go off to college, when you come home it’s not quite the same. In the vein of Carl Lorenzen, I know it’s about moving toward the future and that it will be ok.”
Johnson’s career began 37 years ago when she joined the Nebraska Air National Guard as an enlisted administrative clerk with the 155th Combat Support Squadron in Lincoln in 1984. After graduating from the Air National Guard’s Academy of Military Science in Knoxville, Tennessee, in September 1988, she commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Nebraska Air National Guard. Since then, Johnson has served in a variety of leadership positions, including multiple commands at the flight, squadron and group levels. She has also held numerous non-command positions from equal opportunity officer, logistics officer and the 155th Air Refueling Wing’s executive officer and served on multiple overseas deployments.
At the beginning of her career, Johnson did not expect to continue in the military after her first six years, but she said it was because of different opportunities that brought her to where she is now.
“One thing led to another, one opportunity led to another,” Johnson said. “Those things build on themselves and pretty soon, you look back and think ‘where did 37 years go?’”
“You don’t know they’re opportunities at the time,” she added. “Seek different experiences and cumulatively, over time, one opportunity will lead to an opportunity to compete for something else that you’re then selected for and that broadens or deepens your experience set. And then that opens the door for another opportunity.”
During the ceremony, Johnson credited retired Brig. Gen. Steve Adams with encouraging her to commission and investing in both her and the organization at the beginning of her career.
“Organizationally, outside of the nursing corps we had maybe one or two women in rated officer positions, so he single-handedly drove up the diversity of female officers in one fell swoop. But more importantly is the culture of the Nebraska Air National Guard recognizes and values diversity and inclusion,” said Johnson. “That is a leadership lesson that is applicable today in a much broader sense than just female representation, but a lesson nonetheless: investing in individuals is an investment in the organization.”
Touching on her work ethic and commitment to excellence, the Nebraska National Guard Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, said, “The hallmarks of Wendy’s performance have always been she does her homework, she knows her facts and she knows how to represent the best interests of the organization. She carries that forward to each and every assignment.”
In 2016, Johnson made history as the first woman in the Nebraska Air National Guard to pin on the rank of brigadier general. In 2018, she became the first woman to lead the Nebraska Air National Guard as assistant adjutant general – air.
Johnson continues the legacy of the women pioneers serving in the Nebraska National Guard that began on January 27, 1972 when the first three women enlisted.
“I need to give some collective recognition to the first women who served in the Nebraska National Guard,” said Johnson. “I have been fortunate – or I’m old enough – that I worked with and for many of those women who were part of the trail-blazing entry to the Nebraska National Guard. I have great appreciation for what their service did in terms of the opportunities that are available to women today because of their contributions. So today’s ceremony, this achievement, it stems from their early contribution to that, and I’m grateful.”
Johnson will continue to reside in Elba, Nebraska with her husband, Todd, in the farmhouse where her grandparents lived.
“She won’t be assigned here, but she’ll still be here. She’ll still always be a member of the Nebraska National Guard, Nebraska Air National Guard, and part of this family,” Bohac said.