Rosalynn Johnson describes herself as an introvert. “On those personality tests I’m always on the cusp, I’m an introvert on the fence,” she said. This statement doesn’t seem to mesh with the energetic, amiable “Roz” most people on campus know. Johnson, the Associate Director of Veteran and Military Services at UW Tacoma, traces this distinction back to her childhood. “I was a quiet kid,” she said.
Johnson grew up in San Jose, California. She is the third of four children in what she calls a “blended” family. No one on either side of Johnson’s family had served in the military which made her decision to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point even more surprising. “I was supposed to go to Santa Clara University but I said ‘okay, wait a minute, I can go to West Point, it’s free and all I’ve got to do is serve for five years afterwards?’”
Johnson found out she got accepted into the academy less than month before she needed to be on campus. The then not quite 18-year-old packed her things and moved across country to New York. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” she said. “A lot of the people who went there were either military dependents or kids of graduates and I didn’t even know the difference between the officer and enlisted ranks.”
This was 1988. Johnson graduate from West Point in 1992 and was assigned to the Ordnance Corps. “I was in charge of soldiers who maintained all of the army’s equipment with the exception of helicopters,” she said.
Johnson’s first post was to Korea where she spent 18 months. She also did stints at Ford Hood in Texas and Fort Drum in upstate New York. While at Fort Drum she served with the 10th Mountain Division and spent three months in Haiti as part of “Operation Uphold Democracy”.
Johnson resigned her commission from the Army in 1998 as a captain. “I loved it, I had a great time and I worked with some outstanding soldiers,” she said. “The only reason I got out was because my husband and I wanted to start a family.” Johnson met her husband while they were both stationed in Korea. The couple spent most of their early life together miles apart on separate military bases.
She may have resigned from the Army but Johnson stayed involved. She got her master’s degree from Texas A&M in 2000. When not studying, or raising kids Johnson worked as an adjunct math professor at Colorado Christian University.
Most of her remaining free time was spent volunteering with different military affiliated organizations and non-profits. Johnson’s focus was to help service members and their dependents get access to resources, specifically scholarships.
Johnson moved to the area with her family a few years ago after her husband was posted to Joint Base Lewis-McChord. “I never saw myself working in higher education,” she said. The opportunity presented itself through her volunteer work which attracted the attention of UW Tacoma Professor Lisa Hoffman. The pair served together on a committee that was working to help military spouses continue their education. “A position came up with community engagement and I was encouraged to apply,” she said.
Johnson has since transitioned into a different role as associate director for veteran and military services. “When you look at this campus 18% of our students are connected to the military in some way whether they’re veterans, active duty, reserve, national guard, or dependents,” she said. “Our desire is to have this military affiliated population use us as a resource whether it’s for something big like helping with benefits or something little like finding a place to park.”
The Office of Veteran and Military Services recently launched the PAVE program which matches incoming student veterans with veterans already on campus. Johnson hopes the program will help student veterans with their transition into college life. “It will be great for students to be able to have someone to talk to who has a similar experience and can relate to what they’re going through,” she said.
Johnson — or “Roz” — may have been a quiet kid but not anymore. She credits the military for helping her develop her voice, a voice she now uses to advocate for fellow student veterans.
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org