U.S. Army Colonel Juanita Chang, College of the Ozarks graduate and director of Army Community Relations & Public Outreach at the Pentagon, visited the campus during Veterans Week 2017. She was an open book for students and spoke to them in various classroom settings, answering questions about everything from combat missions to how she got to the position she is in today. She attended many meaningful ceremonies held on campus, including the groundbreaking for The Korean War Memorial, the Veterans Tree Grove dedication for those who traveled on the recent Patriotic Education Travel Program trip to Vietnam, and the Sunrise Flag-raising Ceremony at the heart of campus.
She now sees these events through different eyes.
Not only has Chang broken through any perceived glass ceiling in her professional life, she has shattered the cycles of poverty and despair in her personal life as well.
As a student at College of the Ozarks in the early 1990s, she was there to work hard and gain an education. She was determined to prove herself — to those who said she couldn’t succeed and to the world.
Chang had a tumultuous childhood and lived in numerous foster homes throughout her young life.
“On my 11th birthday, I went to visit a family member in the Taney County Jail,” Chang said. “I decided right then that I never wanted my kids to come and visit me in jail. I wanted to do the exact opposite of every role model I had ever seen in my family. I wanted to prove I didn’t belong in that category.”
College of the Ozarks was a big opportunity for Chang to change her fortune. She worked hard and earned a Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice. She served as an ROTC cadet during her junior and senior years at the College and found a feeling of accomplishment and success through that endeavor. She then went on to earn a Master of Science in criminal justice from Central Missouri University. She also has earned a Master of Arts in National Security Policy Studies from the National War College and has served in Germany, the Republic of Korea, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Her first Army assignment was on a base in Germany, an aviation unit, and she was the only female.
Why did she choose this path?
“If I wanted easy, I would have done something easy.”
Easy is not in her vocabulary.
She was stationed in Korean during 9/11. “We immediately went into fighting positions. We spent seven days in a tank ditch,” Chang said.
She has delivered babies in Middle Eastern countries where the women were not allowed to be attended to by male medics.
She has prevailed through physical training, because under no circumstances could she be considered “dead weight” in Afghanistan or Iraq.
The Army is her family now.
“In the Army, we treat each other like family. We put our lives in each other’s hands.”
Her success, she says, was not by chance. She’s always been proactive with her career, setting her sights on next steps.
The deliberate approach has paid off. In her current role as director of outreach for the U.S. Army, Juanita is one of three public affairs leaders in the Army’s Office of the Chief of Public Affairs, where she is responsible for the entire communications enterprise for the Army.
She manages operations at field offices in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. She supervises Army interactions with the publishing and entertainment/film industries, interaction with Veterans' service organizations, oversees professional sports outreach, and handles requests for Army asset support.
It’s all in a day’s work, and she loves it because every day is different.
She does remember when she decided to make the Army her life. She had already served nine years and had just returned from a year-long tour to Iraq.
“I was going through a divorce, moving, and my dad was dying … and the Army was calling with the next assignment to Iraq. I said to my assignment officer, ‘If I don’t get a break, I’m not going to make it. I need to take a knee.’ He said, ‘Take a knee. Figure your stuff out. When you’re done, call me.’”
When she called and got her next assignment, it was a golden opportunity.
“The next assignment was in Washington, D.C., in the Training with Industry Program. For one year, I served with the global public relations firm FleishmanHillard,” Chang said.
The assignment was a pivotal building block for her career. She gained experience leading and directing large federal programs. She learned social media and afterward became the director of online and social media for the U.S. Army. She wrote the first handbook on the use of social media within the Army and the Department of Defense.
She has the respect of many and the mantle of leadership, overseeing a team of more than 30 people, civilian and military. She wants to lead in a healthy way.
“People will work harder for someone they respect than someone they fear,” Chang said. “They respect me, but they know at the end of the day, they can come talk to me.”
Chang is thankful her path to leadership started at College of the Ozarks.
“College of the Ozarks provided me a really strong foundation of morals and ethics,” Chang said. “My work ethic was instilled in me here. I never had a role model to teach me that. The most inspiring moments of the trip to Missouri was when students came up to me and said, ‘I’ve been struggling, not knowing if I’m really going to make it.’ Now they see that they can.”
The joy Chang has in life is visible in her smile, and her joy is complete when she is able to give back. She had more than 25 students reach out to her via LinkedIn while she was on campus for the week. She offered to give advice, make connections, and help give them a leg up.
“I hope I can give back and use my connections for good,” she said.
Graduated C of O in 1994
ROTC was her work assignment for 2 years. After C of O went to Central Missouri State and did graduate degree in criminology and finished 2 more years of ROTC.
Next, Army schooling for 6 months
Germany for 39 months
2000 – Ft. Leonard Wood