Not many outside of the occupation are likely to associate the job of a salvage diver with the minimally aquatic United States Army. Even fewer would identify the job as one ordinarily occupied by an enlisted woman.
But Sgt. Stephanie Johnson is no ordinary soldier. The 28-year-old currently serves at Virginia’s Joint Base Langley-Eustis as the lead salvage diver for the 569th Engineer Dive Detachment of the Ft. Stewart, Georgia-based 92nd Engineer Battalion.
Graduating from dive school officially made Johnson the sole female enlisted diver in the United States Army, but the accomplishment didn’t come without its share of challenges, she said in an Army release.
The 29-week school presents prospective divers like Johnson with relentless challenges in order to ensure graduates are proficient in underwater demolition and salvage, reconnaissance, and deep sea dives that can last for extended periods of time at a depth of nearly 200 feet below the surface.
The physically and mentally grueling training left Johnson feeling “tired all the time,” she said, but each moment of self-doubt presented an opportunity to tackle a challenge never before encountered.
“I would think, maybe I don’t need to do this,” she said in the Army release. “I could go do anything else in the Army, and it would probably be easier. But then I would think, could I go home at the end of the day and tell my dad or my kids that I quit? And the answer was always, ‘No, absolutely not.’”
Johnson’s children and father were in attendance to see her graduate, a moment that culminated in her father pinning on her dive badge.
But while her accomplishment is not lost on anyone, Johnson admits completing the exhausting course would have been even more difficult had another woman not previously graduated and blazed that trail.
“She paved the way for me because she was the one who showed the male soldiers that just because we’re females, that doesn’t mean we have to be treated any differently,” Johnson said in the release.
Just like her predecessor, Johnson hopes hers will be an example for future generations of women who aspire to work in traditionally male-dominated jobs. Daily rigors may be more intense at times, she said, but the belief that each challenge is only temporary can enable a resilience to “keep pushing through knowing that I’m going to be stronger on the other side.”
“I hope I can show young girls that they are perfectly capable,” the Army’s only female diver said. “You have to put your mind to it, don’t quit, try your hardest and keep a positive attitude.”
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.