ATU ROTC Student Earns Johnston Leadership Award

Gary W. Johnston Leadership Award 2023 Amy Johnston and Leighton Johnson
Brigadier General Amy Johnston (left) presented the 2023 Gary W. Johnston Leadership Award to Leighton Johnson (right).

When you’re named after a military base, there’s a pretty good chance you will grow up with an admiration for those who serve the United States of America in the armed services.

Such is the case for Arkansas Tech University U.S. Army ROTC student Leighton Johnson of Hartford, who was named the 2023 recipient of the Major General Gary W. Johnston Leadership Award at ATU on Saturday, Nov. 4.

“Both my parents (Michelle and Forest Johnson) were in the military,” said Johnson. “They met in the military. Having that as a child growing up…living with people who put a certain weight and respect on things…it gets passed on. For me, it was pretty simple. I couldn’t imagine not serving.”

The award is named in memory of ATU alumnus Gary Johnston, who received his Bachelor of Science degree in business from ATU in 1987. He completed the U.S. Army ROTC program at ATU and was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army.

During an active military career that spanned more than 34 years, Johnston served in command and staff positions from platoon to U.S. Army and U.S. Department of Defense major command levels. He deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Joint Endeavor, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

In 2015, Johnston became the seventh graduate of the ATU U.S. Army ROTC program to attain the rank of General officer in the U.S. Army. He was promoted Major General two years later.

He culminated his career as the commander, Intelligence and Security Command, a global organization of 17,500 personnel across more than 40 countries.

Johnston retired from active duty in September 2021 and passed away in January 2022. He was part of the inaugural class of the ATU U.S. Army ROTC Hall of Honor in 2017 and he received the highest honor his alma mater bestows when he was inducted into the Arkansas Tech Hall of Distinction in 2019.

Johnson received the award from Johnston’s widow, Brigadier General Amy Johnston, during a ceremony in the Doc Bryan Student Services Center Rotunda.

“I’m still trying to grasp it,” said Johnson. “It’s not every day you get to speak to a one-star general such as his wife, Amy Johnston, and a person of her caliber. It’s very rare that your name is on the same page as a four-star general such as Gary Johnston and someone with so much history. From all the stories I have heard he was an amazing man.”

Following his May 2024 graduation from ATU with a Bachelor of Science degree in emergency management, Johnson plans on becoming an infantry officer with the Arkansas National Guard. He wishes to pursue a civilian career with the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“It builds the camaraderie you need to start off with,” said Johnson when asked about the benefits of the ATU U.S. Army ROTC program. “It gives you those people skills. Also, the discipline of everything. We wake up early, do PT (physical training), go to class and get everything done. All around, I can’t say enough good things about the program. I’m not going to name any other schools, but we’ve gone against other schools, and we always out-perform.”

Learn more about the ATU U.S. Army ROTC program at