Col. Hazel W. Johnson set a military precedent recently by becoming the highest ranking black female officer in the history of the Army.
President Carter had nominated Johnson, 52, to become a brigadier general. On June 14, the U.S. Senate confirmed Johnson for the post as chief nurse of the 3,877-member Army Corps of Nurses. She will receive her promotion when she accepts her post on September 1.
She says, it's a job.
With aplomb that apparently has characterized her 24-year career as an Army nurse, the youthful looking Johnson said she always accepted whatever job the Army has given her. Only twice has she requested specific assignments, she says.
This was not one of them.
"I certaintly didn't expect it," Johnson said of the nomination. "We know every four years a chief is selected. I knew I'd be looked at and compared with my peers. . . . There are times you wonder whether or not you'd like to do it," she said a pensive look crossing her face.
"But I've always accepted every job, and that's how I look at this job. I'll work with great zeal," she declared.
Johnson joins two other women as Army generals Maj. Gen. Mary E. Clarke, commanding general of the military Police School-Training Center, in Fort McClellan, Ala., and Brig. Gen. Madelyn Parks who will be replaced by Johnson as chief nurse in command of the Army Corps of Nurses.
A native of West Chester, Pa. Johnson complete her basic nursing training at Harlem Hospital in 1950 and joined the Army in 1955 to "travel, change my horizons and do many thngs. I realized this wasn't too practical [in civilian life] because I would have to start at the bottom each job," she laughed.
In her Army career, however, Johnson has rarely been placed at the bottom of the ranks. She has held many supervisory and consultant positions in the U.S. and abroad and has received various awards, including two Army commendation medals and Army Nurse of the Year in 1964 and 1971.
During the mid-60s, her assignments included instructing and supervising surgical nurses who were preparing for active duty in the U.S. and Vietnam. Most recently she directed the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing and was chief of the U.S. Army hospital in Seoul, Korea.
Except for her stint in Korea and an assignment in Japan in 1956, Johnson has worked in the United States. Although her colleagues and peers have had more overseas duty, "I think I got more and more responsibility," she said. She was granted both of the career assignments she requested -- to be an operating room nurse and to study for her doctorate.
"I always wanted to be an operatitng room nurse," she said.
In pursuing her career, Johnson says she willingly gave up civilian life and marriage. Even during the years of civil rights and anti-Vietnam protests, she said she never regretted or questioned her career choice.
"There are now opportunities in the civilian sector that did not exist 20 years ago," she said. "For me [joining the Army] was a continuation of nursing, but with more opportunities to grow professionally, educationally, to travel and have different assignments.
"I enjoy what I'm doing," she said. "I believe in what I'm doing." CAPTION: Picture, Hazel W. Johnson, newly confirmed birgadier general. By Craig Herndon -- The Washington Post