Lt. Col. Serena Johnson made history by becoming the first African American Garrison Commander of Parks Reserve Forces Training Area (PRFTA) on June 19, 2020.
She says her greatest accomplishment is being able to balance a demanding career and her duties as a mother. “I am very proud of my children, and how far I’ve come because I came from humble beginnings,” said Johnson. ”I teach them to treat people the way they want to be treated and that hard work gets results.” She credits her parents for making her who she is today, and she takes pride passing along their teachings to her children.
In addition to a successful civilian career as a Senior Cost Analyst with Lockheed Martin, she served in the U.S. Army Reserve as an enlisted Soldier and was commissioned as an officer in 1998. She joined the Army Guard Reserve (AGR) program in 2007. When she told her parents about her considerations for joining the Army, they said it was a good backup plan ‘in case college didn’t work out.’ “I joined and I never looked back because I realized how much I appreciated the structure and discipline,” said Johnson.
You can imagine how proud Johnson’s parents (both deceased) would be today, because not only did she earn a bachelor's and a master’s degree, she now commands a military installation. Being selected to command is a pinnacle part of an officer’s military career because she says “the competition is very stiff.” She considers it an honor to have been selected among her peers.
As for women’s equality, she says it’s not about asking for special treatment, it’s about being afforded an opportunity to participate on a level playing field with male counterparts. In 2012, the Army made history for being the first branch of the military to open all military occupations and positions to women. Since then, some women have proven their mettle by earning their distinction as Army Rangers, Green Berets, combat engineers, and most recently, the first female Commander of the Army Reserve. “But we still need to work on more leadership, preferably Command, positions for women. I think 2020 has been a good year for female leaders and that lets me know that it is doable,” said Johnson.
“Behind every successful person is a support tribe,” said Johnson. She says her parents and two older sisters, Helen Calloway and Cassandra Johnson, have been her biggest cheerleaders and advocates. “My sisters remind me often that I can accomplish anything by remaining focused on God, and by putting the necessary work in,” said Johnson.
In the Army, retired Brigadier General Barbara L. Owens, Major General Tammy Smith, retired Brigadier General Tia Young, retired Brigadier General Donna Williams (former Fort Hunter Liggett commander) and Col. Peggy McManus are just a few of the many women Johnson looks up to. “They forged a clear path for the lieutenant colonels and other aspiring females to come behind them,” said Johnson. “We have strength in our collective abilities as women, and I am a believer that some of the best leaders I have worked with have been female,” said Johnson. “I want to continue paving a distinct path for other women to follow behind me.”
Johnson believes that women are competitive with their male counterparts physically, mentally and emotionally. When it comes to the mental and emotional aspects of leadership, “gender should be irrelevant,” said Johnson. “We all are different but our diversity makes us stronger as a whole.” The Army wins when we, as an organization, acknowledge our diversity and when we are intentional about inclusion.