JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. -- At 28 years old, Stephanie Johnson, a mother of two, decided to join the U.S. Army and pursue a better life for her children. She dreamt of providing them opportunities and benefits that she never experienced growing up, she had no idea that she would be the only enlisted female diver in the Army.
Sgt. Johnson is the lead salvage diver for the 569th Engineer Dive Detachment, 53rd Engineer Battalion, 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
Johnson has always been interested in physical fitness and playing sports. Despite being fit, she found pull-ups to be challenging during Advanced Individual Training.
"I had always worked out and I never really struggled, but building the initial upper body [strength], for me that was a huge challenge," said Johnson. "I wasn't prepared for the level of physical training that dive school was going to take me to. Sometimes we were working out two or three times a day. I was just so tired all the time, but I adapted."
She credits her family with giving her the motivation to continue and graduate from dive school.
"Thinking about my kids and my dad while I was in AIT gave me the motivation to keep pushing through," Johnson said. "If something was super hard and I was struggling, I would think, maybe I don't need to do this. I could go do anything else in the Army, and it would probably be easier. But then I would think, could I go home at the end of the day and tell my dad or my kids that I quit? And the answer was always 'No, absolutely not.' That's what pushed me through on my worst days."
According to Johnson, her father and children attended her graduation ceremony, and her father pinned her dive pin on her uniform; giving her a sense of pride she had never felt before.
Although Johnson is the only current female enlisted Army diver, she credits the female diver who graduated before her with providing her this opportunity.
"She paved the way for me because she was the one who showed the male Soldiers that just because we're females, that doesn't mean we have to be treated any differently," Johnson said. "We know we joined an all-male field and we kind of go in expecting that it's going to be a little bit different."
Johnson started her journey in the Army to provide a better life for her children, but has realized she has the ability to motivate and encourage young woman to pursue their dreams.
"I hope I can show young girls that they are perfectly capable," Johnson said. "You have to put your mind to it, don't quit, try your hardest and keep a positive attitude. I hope I always demonstrate a positive attitude to my fellow Soldiers and inspire them to do the same. I really do think that can get you through any of your trials, personal or work-related; it's all about attitude."
When Johnson decided to join the Army, she wanted to find something she could be proud of.
"I wanted to do something that had meaning and was not only physical, but where I could go home at the end of the day and feel as if I actually did something productive that day," Johnson said. "That I had benefitted someone."
Thinking back to what her mother used to tell her, "This too shall pass," has helped Johnson push herself through tough parts in her life, and has motivated her to keep going.
"Things may be hard at work or at home, so I try to focus on what I can do to make it better and accept that it's not going to last forever," Johnson said. "I just keep pushing through knowing that I'm going to be stronger on the other side. I try to think of problems as temporary obstacles. Everyone has setbacks, everybody makes bad choices, and everybody faces things that are completely out of their control, that go wrong. You just have to know that things will eventually get better; there's a light at the end of the tunnel."