Joan Johnson

Joan Johnson

About the company/organization: The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division is an organization within the Naval Air Systems Command dedicated to maintaining a center of excellence in weapons development for the Department of the Navy. China Lake is the principal land test range and weapons development laboratory for the Department of the Navy.

What I do: I direct a civilian workforce of more than 5,700 professionals and am responsible for research, development, acquisition support, test, evaluation and in-service engineering for the total weapon system.

How I landed in Kern County: I worked in industry for 17 years before choosing to work with the Department of the Navy. Because of my role in industry, I had the opportunity to build great, professional relationships at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division China Lake. It was during that engagement that I fell in love with the work, the people and the culture.

Education: Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from the University of Virginia

Hobbies: Hiking, traveling and wine-tasting!

What was your very first job and what did you learn from it?

My first job was as an entry-level engineer for a defense contractor. I learned several things: First, with the right leader, good teams can accomplish extraordinary things; second, if you want to make a real difference, you must get out of your comfort zone and push yourself beyond what you think you are capable of achieving and then deliver; and third, seek out and respect the expertise of others, learn from their experiences and apply the learning, and build relationships founded in mutual respect and trust.

Who or what has been the biggest influence on your career?

Both my parents have had a positive influence on me and have shaped who I am as a person. My mother, by example, taught me to be compassionate and forgiving. My father taught me, by example, never to settle for mediocrity.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received? Take your job seriously, but not yourself.

What is the most challenging part of your job? Balancing time and attention to technical needs, organizational needs and individual workforce needs. All three are important and interdependent, and each requires personal commitment and continuous engagement.

What is the most rewarding part of your job? Working with a world-class, focused and dedicated workforce who, every day, are making a difference for the warfighter.

What is the most memorable accomplishment of your career?

One of the most memorable positions I held was that of the AH-1 Cobra Light Attack Helo Weapon Systems Support Activity lead. Two weeks after being assigned into the position, 9/11 occurred. Focus and priorities shifted to supporting immediate needs for squadrons deployed in theater, and our small, yet motivated in-house team turned to and provided some innovative, rapid solutions to urgent needs identified by the AH-1 community. One of the most rewarding days I recall is a visit from some AH-1 aircrew thanking the team for the tools and capabilities they provided on short notice. The aircrew shared that the capabilities were saving lives in theater. That conversation on that day reinforced for each of us why we come to work each and every day.

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