REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. – After more than three decades of government service, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s senior civilian leader will close his time with the command and federal service during a ceremony, Dec. 14.
Before being named USASMDC’s deputy to the commander, James B. Johnson Jr., previously served as the command’s Future Warfare Center director where he was responsible for Space and Global Ballistic Missile Defense Doctrine and Training, Concept Development, Decision Support, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Capability Managers for Space and High Altitude, and Global Ballistic Missile Defense.
“I saved my dream job for last,” Johnson said. “Working at SMDC has been my highest honor. It has been such a pleasure to work with some of the brightest minds in the world. Further, SMDC is a better team environment than anywhere else I have worked. Our people help each other in the day-to-day execution of our mission but our people are also there for each other when life’s trials come along such as sickness, death, etc.”
As the command’s highest ranking civilian, Johnson provides leadership for the Army’s Space and Missile Defense programs, acquisition, personnel, and resource management.
“The highlights include working on hypersonics, high energy lasers, small satellites and all of our operational missions. Another major highlight was our recognition as a ‘Best Place to Work,’” he added.
Johnson began his career in civil service after college as an engineer with the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center located at Redstone Arsenal. He later joined Redstone Technical Test Center as team leader of the Radar Systems Group.
He served as director of the Developmental Test Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, and then as director of the U.S. Army Test, Measurement, and Diagnostic Equipment Activity. In January 2007, Johnson was appointed to the senior executive service.
His other assignments include the Missile Defense Agency, Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Joint Program Office in Huntsville; director of Test Operations; deputy product manager of the Test, Training, and Exercise Capability Product Office; and chief of the Test Products Division in TTEC.
Johnson said he has worked closely with industry for most of his career as well as completing the Defense Acquisition University Advanced Program Management Course where he studied in-depth how industry works versus how the government works. He said some key takeaways from his experience and training is industry, for the vast majority, wants what is best for Soldiers just like we do in the government.
“One thing we do now in SMDC that has received very positive feedback from industry is we tell industry what we need earlier and in more detail,” Johnson said. “Industry has a tough time if we expect them to read our mind but don’t give them enough timely detail. If we give them more information and do it earlier, their proposals are more responsive and we get better competition and all players – Soldiers, taxpayers, and industry – are all winners in the end.”
Johnson said his relationship with academia has been excellent over the years and has benefitted both his professional career as well as USASMDC.
“I have conducted sponsored university research with Massachusetts Institute of Technology-Lincoln Labs, Georgia Tech, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville,” Johnson said. “In my last three jobs, I have worked closely with the University of Alabama in Huntsville to bring on interns to work for the government while they are in school and then hopefully be offered a permanent government position upon graduation.”
Most recently, Johnson was involved in standing up the SMDC Underserved Community Cyber Engineering Education Development program.
“SUCCEED is a partnership with the University of Alabama in Huntsville; Alabama A&M; Alabama State; Tuskegee; and the Alabama School for Cyber Engineering and Technology,” Johnson said. “The aim of SUCCEED is to hire minority interns, again with the goal of ultimately being offered a permanent government position upon graduation.”
Johnson said he became an engineer because he was always drawn to technical things while growing up.
“I enjoyed learning about electricity as a small child and taught myself how to do home electrical projects when I was about 10 or 11,” Johnson said. “I was also drawn to complex weapon systems such as missiles, aircraft, radars, etc. Becoming an electrical engineer gave me the opportunity to learn more about and work on all the things that fascinated me as a child.”
To those just beginning their careers, Johnson has some advice: look for things to do. Do not wait to be told.
“Try to figure out what excites you most and learn everything you can possibly learn about that field,” Johnson said. “Then, ask for opportunities to work in that field to gain experience. In general, maximize your training and education and broaden yourself to the maximum extent possible. Work for more than one command or service or government agency if possible.”
He also said everyone should seek a mentor who is not in the management chain and who has been successful and can provide honest feedback.
“Mentoring wasn’t nearly as accessible when I was coming up through the ranks many years ago,” Johnson said. “Therefore, many of us were trying to find our way in the dark and in many respects, it was by trial and error. Now, mentoring is readily available. SMDC regularly sponsors mentoring events as does many other commands.”
Johnson said he has observed that many will not pursue opportunities because of fear of failure or stepping outside one’s comfort zone.
“My observation of myself and many others over the years is that we let fear determine what we do or don’t do,” Johnson said. “In most cases, we will only advance and become all that we can be if we put those fears aside and step outside our comfort zone.”
To illustrate his point, Johnson quoted Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Johnson’s retirement ceremony is scheduled for Dec. 14 at 2 p.m. at Redstone Arsenal’s Bob Jones Auditorium in the Sparkman Center.