AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. —
"I think we're on to something here," she said.
The academy opened its doors to women in 1976, and Johnson enrolled the next year, in "the bow wave of history," she said.
She became the school's first female Rhodes scholar and first female cadet wing commander. She played varsity basketball all four years at the academy and is the women's second-highest all-time scorer with 1,706 points.
Not everyone was happy to see women as cadets, she said.
"When I showed up, it was about change, and not everybody is happy about change," she said.
Johnson said she proved her worth at the controls of jet-powered C-141 cargo planes and KC-10 aerial fueling planes, and in her 20s, often commanded aircraft crews of men old enough to be her father.
"That opens a lot of doors," she said.
Coast Guard Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz was the first woman to lead a U.S. military academy, becoming superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., in 2011. Johnson is the first woman to be superintendent at any of the three best-known academies, Army, Navy and Air Force.
Johnson said she's grateful for the opportunity to lead the academy.
"It's kind of an amazing closure to be the superintendent of my alma mater."