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Coast Guard Leader Tells Youth "You Can Be What You Want To Be"

"You can be what you want to be." Rear Admiral Joyce M. Johnson, D.O., gave this assurance to youth attending the annual Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day Luncheon hosted by the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce. But adults at the luncheon were listening just as carefully.

Admiral Johnson was named chief medical officer and surgeon general for the U.S. Coast Guard in 1997, the first woman to hold that post. She is also the first physician and the first woman to serve on the board of trustees of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

In keeping with the day’s theme of sharing with children the spectrum of career options available to them, Admiral Johnson offered these four steps to achieving what you want to be:

  1. Learn all you can. Learn all the time and in different ways. "Almost everything I’ve learned, I’ve used in one way or another," she said. "I’ve used chemistry in cooking; I use math all the time. But you can only use knowledge if you learn it."
  1. Decide what you like and enjoy most. "This can be difficult," she admitted. "Think about how careers relate to what you enjoy. Your hobbies may become your job some day." She noted that she loves to cook and is responsible, among her myriad other duties, for the cooks in the Coast Guard. She also writes a cooking column. Her love for travel to remote places germinated with a driving trip with her family as a youngster from Minnesota to Acapulco. Years later her medical work took her to Papua New Guinea to treat patients in remote villages, an experience she found fascinating.
  2. Regular work can be fun. She noted that when she was 16 her father, who did all the repair work around their house, bought her an old car and encouraged her to do the body work and paint it. She learned a lot about cars and in the process, and today she’s in charge of safety for the Coast Guard and needs to know about engines. Even in the midst of serving on a disaster team, something fun can occur, she stressed. When a disaster team was going door to door in Florida after Hurricane Andrew, a woman invited workers in to see a monkey that had escaped from the zoo and had sought shelter in her house.
  3. Don’t give up. "When things seem hard, we get tired and frustrated," she acknowledged. She described a trip she took to Antarctica during which she had to learn how to build a snow fort and sleep outside in it one night. She said she was really scared but didn’t give up. She finally fell asleep.

For everyone there is a job that’s best for them, she concluded. "The Coast Guard is the perfect job for me. I’m able to help others and grow from it."

For more information about the chamber, go to