“In the history in the U.S. Navy and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we’ve only had five Seventh-day Adventist chaplains rise to the rank of O-6 [captain]. Today, you will witness the promotion of the sixth,” said Paul Anderson, director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries (ACM) for the North American church region, during the promotion ceremony of his associate director, Washington Johnson II.
Johnson, known to his associates as “Wash,” was officially promoted from commander to captain in the U.S. Navy Reserve on October 8, 2018, at the headquarters of the North American Division (NAD) in Columbia, Maryland, United States. The ceremony took place in the presence of his family, friends, colleagues, and fellow uniformed service members.
"[I’m] giving all glory and honor to God, who is the captain of my life and the anchor of my salvation,” said Johnson after taking an oath of office. Johnson was also given a new service dress coat that reflects his higher rank.
Johnson is the first African-American Adventist to make the rank of captain in the U.S. Navy’s chaplain corps since the promotion of Rear Admiral Barry Black, who has since retired from the armed services and currently serves as chaplain for the United States Senate.
Black was the promotion ceremony’s featured speaker. “Milestone moments can be followed by testing [with] tests that God permits,” he said. Black encouraged Johnson to practice the spiritual disciplines and to serve God with “reverential awe” as he transitions to his higher role.
The promotion ceremony was officiated by Lt. General Reynold Hoover, deputy commander of the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), and vice commander of the U.S Element, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) at the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, United States. Hoover explained the unique role chaplains play for those who serve the country.
“All of us in uniform and all of us who have made flag officer and general officer, we think that we're the top, and pillars of our community. But you can get at the top and not have a purpose in life, and that's where ‘Wash’ comes in,” said Hoover. “He has given us purpose in life, and that's what the chaplains do for us.”
In addition to his role at NAD, Johnson is also a staff chaplain at USNORTHCOM and NORAD.
“As [someone who has] commanded in combat, the most humbling thing you can ever have is when a chaplain and others are praying for your safety and praying for you to bring home our service men and women,” Hoover said. “And that’s the spirit that the chaplain corps brings us, and that's what ‘Wash’ has done for us at NORAD.”
Johnson received two additional acknowledgments. Anderson presented him with a glass award in the shape of a blue flame, which is given by ACM on occasions of promotion and retirement for Adventist servicemembers. Later in the ceremony, Cpt. Thomas Walcott, chaplain of the U.S. Coast Guard, recognized Johnson with an honor of distinguished military service for his rescue and recovery efforts in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in 2017.
Johnson’s new level of administrative authority in the Navy Reserve expands the scope of his duties to include strategic planning and the training and development of other chaplains of various faiths. In his current role at ACM, Johnson facilitates endorsements, recruits prospective chaplains, and interacts with union and conference leaders.
As mentioned, Johnson is the sixth Adventist chaplain to reach the rank of captain in the history of the denomination and the U.S. Navy. He follows Mike Hakanson (fifth), Dave Girardin (fourth), Darold Bigger (third), Barry Black (second), and Herman Kibble (first). Johnson is the first of them to be promoted while employed by the North American Division.