By Amy Guckeen-Tolson, USAG RedstoneOctober 29, 2010
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Each morning as the sun comes up, Col. Elizabeth Johnson greets the new day with gratitude.
"Command is a privilege and I wake up every day feeling blessed," Johnson said.
For the past 100 or so days, Johnson has risen each day with those blessings in mind as the new commander of Fox Army Health Center. This past Sunday marked her first 100 days of command, and while she is only the second female in Fox history to reach such a milestone, for the nurse of more than 25 years it's not about that - it's about helping Redstone reach their full wellness potential.
"It doesn't matter what gender I happen to be, I know what's expected of me as a commander," Johnson said.
The cattle scattered across Redstone Arsenal are a little piece of home for the Cleghorn, Iowa, native who is known simply as "Elizabeth" when she goes home to help out on the family farm.
While her military awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (with four oak leaf clusters), Joint Service Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal (with two oak leaf clusters), Army Achievement Medal (with one oak leaf cluster) and the Expert Field Medical Badge, when it comes to her brother, she's judged not on how well she can lead an army, but rather how well she can sort cattle. Colonel or no colonel, Johnson's brother likes to joke that even if she was a five-star general, she'd still get an earful if she didn't get it right when it comes to the cows.
Lucky for Johnson, when she took over command of Fox Army Health Center July 16 from Col. Mark Smith, it was an assignment that had nothing to do with cows, but rather, the profession she chose in high school, after observing the interesting lives of two mothers she babysat for that were nurses. Graduating from South Dakota State University with a degree in nursing, she was commissioned through ROTC in 1982, and later earned a master's in adult nursing with a functional role in education from the same university in 1992.
Through the course of her military career, she has been assigned to places like Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where she served as chief, perioperative nursing section; Fort Benning, Ga., where she was deputy commander/deputy commander of nursing, 14th Combat Support Hospital, and recently in Iraq, where she was deputy commander for nursing, TF 14 MED in support of detainee health care operations. Joining the Arsenal community has been a seamless transition for the commander, who has traveled the world healing the sick and helping the healthy stay that way.
"The entire Redstone and Huntsville community has welcomed me and made the transition an easy one," Johnson said.
One of the challenges Johnson foresees in her command is adapting to the population change that will occur due to BRAC as young Soldiers leave the Arsenal and more seasoned active duty Soldiers and their families take their place. In addition, being fully aware of beneficiaries' concerns when it comes to how health care reforms in Washington may affect them is also high on her to-do list. Johnson is quick to commend her staff for a job well done in addressing any and all challenges that Fox faces.
"We occasionally have new challenges and they're there to step up to the plate and put their best foot forward," said Johnson, who likes to celebrate the positives, like welcoming home deployed staff and the success of the health fair at Retiree Appreciation Day. "Every day people are coming up to me and thanking me for something positive my staff did for them."
With the first 100 days of command behind her, much of which was spent observing and learning the ins and outs of Fox, because she's "not one to change things for the sake of change," Johnson looks forward to working with leaders across the Arsenal to continue building a community of wellness, a mindset previous Fox commander Smith helped put in place.
"He has a great strategic concept of health promotion and wellness," Johnson said of the legacy she inherited from Smith's command. "He did a super job of building a model of wellness and I will continue to work with the leaders of Redstone to facilitate health promotion."
Through fall and into 2011, Fox will continue to literally build a model of wellness within the four walls of the health center. Johnson and staff celebrated the recent arrival of semis with steel beams for the front entrance, which will be completed after the first of the year, and await the day at the end of November when the Warrior Clinic will move out of a trailer in the parking lot, and back into Fox proper. The construction of a basketball court and delivery of exercise equipment to complete the fitness trail is also currently in the works.
"It'll give us a better sense of community," said Johnson, who looks forward to someday soon sharing a cup of coffee with beneficiaries in the waiting area of the revamped front entrance, of the renovations.
Sharing that cup of coffee, or on a larger scale, giving beneficiaries that walk in the door more than what they expected, is just one of the visions Johnson has for Fox. Continuing to provide safe, superb, quality, compassionate care, which includes ensuring staff are properly trained to respond in a crisis, such as those seen at Forts Stewart, Bliss and Hood, remains at the top of her command priority list, as well as making sure that Fox is an integral part of the community.
"As much as I want people to come into these four walls and see how beautiful it is, I encourage our staff to go out and about Redstone Arsenal to promote health and wellness," Johnson said.
And for those that do find themselves within those "beautiful" four walls, Johnson encourages them to promote their own health and wellness.
"I want Fox to continue to be a beacon of health and wellness to our beneficiaries, and I want to guide them to be active advocates for their health care," Johnson said. "I would like people to think of coming to Fox as an opportunity to contribute to their level of wellness, not as a sign of sickness. It's a great mission to be here to help them be proactive advocates of their health."
For the colonel, it is a mission that stems back to why she got into the health care profession to begin with.
"I enjoy helping people and being a source of comfort," she said.