A Memorable Milestone Promotion

From Navy JAG Corps Public Affairs

Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer L. Johnson advanced from lieutenant to lieutenant commander during a promotion ceremony at Heather Heyer Way in Charlottesville, Va., on Sept. 1. Like hundreds of other naval officers – both within and outside the JAG community – Johnson traded the bars on her collar for an oak leaf insignia and shed her status as a junior officer.

“My reaction to the promotion message was very surprised,” added Johnson. “Have you seen the caliber of judge advocates on the list? My colleagues are so impressive; it’s really humbling to be among their ranks. However, the O-4 board met on the date my daughter was born, so I imagine there was just some good luck on my side.”

Johnson was born and raised in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia; however, her stateside hometown is Knoxville, Tenn. Deeply passionate about equality – and shaped by her unique background – Johnson knew early in life what path she wanted to take. Johnson received a Bachelor of Arts degree in international relations, specializing in Middle Eastern studies, from George Washington University.      

In 2010, Johnson graduated from Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and became a California-licensed attorney. She received the school’s highest award for distinctive community service. She received her Master of Laws from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) College of Law in international and comparative law and business taxation. Soon after, she began working at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) in Los Angeles in the International Mergers & Acquisitions Tax Department. While working at PwC, she served as the President of the Los Angeles LGBTQ Bar Association.

“I’m an out bisexual woman. In 2003, Lawrence v. Texas was decided, and in 2010, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was repealed. This all happened in my lifetime,” said Johnson. “I’ve lived in areas openly hostile to the LGBTQ community. I would like to say I care simply because I do, but, in fact, I care because I know personally what discrimination and inequality feels like. It makes you feel less a part of the team, it makes you feel less motivated to contribute, and it removes your sense of personal value.”       

Johnson was commissioned through the Direct Accession Program in 2013 and reported to the Region Legal Service Office (RLSO) Southwest in March 2014. At RLSO Southwest, Johnson served as a command services attorney; supported Naval Special Warfare Command during a temporary assignment; served as the Naval Air Station North Island legal assistance officer-in-charge (OIC); and was named the Defense Service Office West’s Junior Officer of the Quarter during her defense rotation.

Following her first tour, Johnson transferred to Naval Support Activity, Bahrain. While serving as the deputy staff judge advocate and acting OIC of the RLSO Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia Branch Office Bahrain, she was recognized as the command’s Junior Officer of the Quarter. Most recently, Johnson was assigned as the deputy assistant force judge advocate for Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/FIFTH Fleet/Combined Maritime serving as the deputy operational law attorney and the military justice advisor and was promoted from lieutenant to lieutenant commander.

“I’m looking forward to increased leadership responsibility after school. The Junior Officer’s Protection Association will always have a special place in my heart though!” said Johnson. “I’m fortunate to be at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School (TJAGLCS) with some fantastic friends who came out for my promotion, socially distanced and in masks, of course. After TJAGLCS, I’m looking forward to getting out to the Fleet, hopefully to sea. I believe that TJAGLCS is the best opportunity to develop as a JAG and obtain 120 ‘bubbas’ to call when you need to phone a friend in the field.”

Inspired by the recent activism she has witnessed across the country, Johnson was moved to host her promotion ceremony at Heather Heyer Way. Heyer was killed at age 32 while protesting racial injustice in 2017.

“Promotion to O-4, focusing on the right side of my collar, is about leading with a diversity mindset. It’s about making decisions while zooming out the lens and realizing I have biases,” said Johnson. “It’s about examining issues at commands where I work to see if there is a negative impact of bias, whether implicit or explicit. It’s about building diverse teams and a commitment to myself and to the Sailors that I will lead. I plan to be paying full attention in my leadership and hopefully make at least a small amount of change.”

Johnson was also recognized as one of the best LGBTQ lawyers under 40 by the National LGBTQ Bar Association. Awards received in her civilian capacity include a Commendation from the County of Los Angeles in recognition of dedicated service to the affairs of the community, a Certificate of Recognition from the City of Los Angeles for dedication to equality and human rights, a Certificate of Appreciation from the Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney for commitment to equality and progressive leadership protecting the rights of the LGBT Community for the benefit of all, and a Commendation from the State Bar of California for service to and representation of the LGBT legal community.

When looking to the future, Johnson said, “I think there are plenty of challenges in attempting to build cohesion and to heal when it comes to diversity. Addressing what is going on with our colleagues and Sailors is critical, and listening is imperative. I recommend listening to Brig. Gen. Berger’s lesson on empathetic leadership. We all have lessons to learn, and I think coming at any problem from the perspective of the student is the right place to start.”

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