Thursday, February 12, 2009

First African-American woman general served at Walter Reed

Honoring 100 years of Warrior Care And So Much More

Editorís note: Walter Reedís Black History Month observance is Thursday at 11:30 a.m. in the Heaton Pavilionís Joel Auditorium. A reception in the second-floor hospital lobby follows the program.

When Hazel Johnson, an operating room nurse who graduated from the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing, joined the Army in 1955, she thought it would be an opportunity that would allow her to explore the world and hone her nursing skills. She had no idea she would become a part of military history ó which she did in 1979 when she became the first African-American female general officer and the first African American appointed as chief of the Army Nurse Corps.

Timing had much to do with Johnsonís success in the military as she entered the Army shortly after President Harry Truman banned segregation and discrimination in the armed services. And like most good Soldiers, Johnson was rewarded with promotions and posts of responsibility during her service in the Army. She was also afforded educational opportunities in the Army and she would earn a bachelorís degree in nursing from Villanova University, a masterís degree in nursing education from Columbia University, and a doctorate in education administration from Catholic University.

During her 26 years in the Army Nurse Corps, Johnson held positions around the nation and the world, including posts as a staff nurse in Japan and chief nurse in Korea. She also served as assistant dean of the University of Maryland School of Nursing from 1976 to 1978 and as director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing (1976-1978) at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. WRAIN was established May 1, 1964 and officially closed June 30, 1978.

Johnsonís distinguished career was capped in 1979 when she pinned on the one star of a brigadier general in the U.S. Army, the first African-American woman to achieve the rank. In doing so, she became the 16th ANC chief.

As chief of the Army Nurse Corps, Gen. Johnson commanded 7,000 male and female nurses, including those in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve. She also set policy and oversaw operations in eight Army medical centers, 56 community hospitals, and 143 free-standing clinics in the United States, Japan, Korea, Germany, Italy, and Panama.

Her responsibilities left little time to pursue other avenues of life, including marriage. However, two years before retiring from the Army, Johnson married David Brown, and became Brig. Gen. Hazel W. Johnson-Brown.

Following her retirement, Johnson-Brown enjoyed a distinguished ìsecondî career in academia. She served as professor of nursing at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and finally at George Mason University in Virginia. At George Mason University, she was instrumental in founding the Center for Health Policy, designed to educate and involve nurses in health policy and policy design. Johnson-Brown retired from teaching in 1997.