LOA’s “Legacy Logistics Ladies” Interview Series
Interview with: Brigadier General C. McCauley von Hoffman, Director of Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection, Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
By: Captain Shelby Olivera
Exceptional Release: Where did your logistics journey begin?
Brigadier General C. McCauley von Hoffman: My first job as a Logistics Officer started in October 1989 as a Fuels Officer at Nellis, AFB when the ratio of officers to enlisted was around 1:100. The logistics career field was comprised of Supply, Transportation, and Log-Plans Officers before they were combined and considered LROs. In my third assignment at Spangdalem, AB I was accepted into the cross-flow program where I was able to take an assignment outside of my career field as an F-15C Maintenance Officer with the 53rd Fighter Squadron and have had assignments in both maintenance and logistics since then.
ER: When you started your career did you think you would still be serving after nearly 30 years?
General von Hoffman: No, when I first started I thought I would do four years and a day, and that would be it. My plan was to serve my ROTC commitment, then go to law school. But I fell in love with the Air Force as soon as I got to Active Duty! Then my goal for the longest was to be a Squadron Commander believing it to be the greatest job in the world and it is the greatest job in the world. I never imagined serving this long, but it also doesn’t feel like it’s been all that long. Every new assignment has brought a new challenge and new energy into my being able to serve.
ER: Are there any sacrifices along your journey that have stuck out to you in particular or molded you into the leader that you are today?
General von Hoffman: My family and I have always seen things as more opportunities rather than sacrifices. My children have shed tears when having to leave schools, and those things are tough, but they have also been afforded experiences and opportunities that many others haven’t. I am actually in an exercise right now, so it will be 16 days of 12-15 hour shifts. Just today I was walking back from the Air Operations Center with an LRO Captain who started his duty at 1830 the night before and it was 0915 in the morning. I told him, 'This is hard, it is tough on you and on your family, especially when you are not deployed, but still out of the house on opposite schedules for weeks at a time, but these are experiences that make you as an LRO or maintainer. You’ll remember the stress of having to produce immediately and after having already worked 12 hours, and learn from it— more so than the day to day duties you have for the rest of your assignment. So, I can’t say that I can use the word sacrifice to describe any part of my journey. Just like everyone else, I’ve experienced challenging times. Deployments have made me miss family weddings, graduations and birthdays. I’ve watched my girls’ video recorded state basketball tournament from a TDY location. But these very things are what molded me into a “seasoned” loggie and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
ER: What was the most difficult challenge “opportunity” that you have faced as a woman in logistics?
General von Hoffman: With 30 years of service in May, I would say earlier in my career I still thought my leadership style needed to look like everyone else’s and all of my leadership was pretty much male. There were a few female officers around but, very few. Most female officers at Nellis in 1989 were medical or personnelists, and so I think I mimicked the male leadership styles and tried to tamp down things that were a little bit more natural to me. Over time I learned to appreciate the differences in leadership style of a different gender or different cultures because of what that difference brings to the table. I discovered your leadership style doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s; it doesn’t even need to look like the most successful people around, your leadership style just has to be purposeful and a reflection of you.
ER: Where do you see logistics in 15-20 years?
General von Hoffman: I hope the logistics career field gets after what we try to do at AMMOS and the other competitive forums where logisticians understand a lot more about operations and our impact on operations. At the same time, I hope that operators understand a lot more about logistics and the impact of logistics on what they are trying to do so that we are always an A3/A4/A5/ community line abreast instead of an A3/A5 community in the lead with the A4 supporting.
ER: Where do you see the air force in 15-20 years?
General von Hoffman: I like to look at the broader Air Force outside of the traditional sortie generation lane. If I think about where our Space Force or Cyber Force is today, right now, and then think forward 15-20 years. Are we looking at how we smartly grow into the logistics support function for these critical mission functions?
ER: What has been your greatest accomplishment to date?
General von Hoffman: I think it took a long time and maybe it took having three kids under the age of five to figure it out. Everyone has a work-life balance. I think for female officers we tend to think we can do it all. We want to be a 100% Mama and a 100% officer, and that is really hard to pull off. Finding that balance and discovering that it is absolutely ok to ask for help is an accomplishment. Many officers have a "type A" personality; you think you can do this all on your own. We stay up until midnight studying for a Master's after we’ve put the kids to bed or after we’ve cleaned the house, all of those kinds of things. It took me a while to say, 'you know what - this week I’m going to be a 90% officer and a 100% mother'. Next week it will be 100% officer and 90% mother because the mission demands it. That is perfectly ok! It is ok to lean on your family or lean on whatever support network you have because it does take a community to support every Airman. That took me a long time to figure out but that’s my accomplishment, I did. I try to tell all young officers with families male or female that it is just fine if you have baby spit on your uniform occasionally as you roll into work, or that you had to use the dry shampoo instead of a real shampoo or whatever, just hang on!
ER: Is there anything in your career that you wish you could do over?
General von Hoffman: From a mission standpoint, the mistakes I have made were learning events. Painful, but they made me a smarter officer. “Do-overs” always have to do with people. Did I pay enough attention to someone who needed it? Was there a warning sign from one of the Airmen that I could have seen if I had paid more attention? Was there somewhere I could have stepped in and helped a family that I was too hesitant to; or when I should have removed a mediocre supervisor but didn’t, even though it would have made everyone's life better.
ER: What advice would you give to a young officer in the logistics career fields?
General von Hoffman: Job 1: Competence! Know your job as soon as you can - what you do and what your mission set is. Job 2: Figure out what your peers are doing, what drives that intel officer’s requirement? What do they need from you, but also what motivates that person to do their job? The same goes for aircrew, force support officers, engineers…because as soon as you understand how integrated a wing is and how it runs and not just your piece of that, the smarter you are at your job.
ER: Who or what inspires you?
General von Hoffman: What really inspires me and in particular in my current job as the A4 right now I get to go out and travel. I can't spend a ton of time at each base, but typically we will do a little more time with one mission set instead of a lot of short visits with many. Seeing super confident Airmen at all levels inspires me. Recently I was able to meet a Security Forces TSgt who is embedded in a munitions squadron in Germany. He was so fired up about a mission that has a .0001% chance of execution during wartime duties, but he was so passionate that you would think the plan was in action tomorrow. He was super motivated, competent, quoting his AFI, procedures, and his checklist. This fired me up and was so inspiring. It’s the same thing when you watch a weapons load team in competition with another load team - complete competence and motivation in all ranks. When I see Chiefs walk into the room bringing with them a ton of competence and confidence and everyone leans in, ready to hear the seasoned expert talking, it totally inspires me – I love it.
ER: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
General von Hoffman: "Don’t get off the bus!" I got this quote second hand from former Marine Corps Commandant, General Pace; so I’m sure I don’t have it quite right, but you can tell it stuck with me. He said, “Don’t get off the bus! it doesn’t matter if the ride is bumpy and you don’t have your seatbelt on; it doesn’t matter where the bus is taking you; [the bus being your military career] don’t get off the bus! Stay on the bus until the bus gets all the way to its final stop and they kick you off!" The first time I heard that quote I thought, 'that’s kind of how I feel,' this is just a bumpy ride, but that’s all it is - just a little bumpy. It has been and is a privilege to serve! I loved being (at the time) Lt Kelly instead of Ms. Kelly and I loved being Capt/Maj/Col/Brig Gen von Hoffman instead of being Mrs. von Hoffman. In military service, we get to see and do so many things that our civilian family, friends and neighbors can only imagine. I don’t want to take off my boots and I’m not getting off the bus until it’s at the station and they are turning the lights off.
ER: What makes a lethal logistician?
General von Hoffman: Being in a proactive stance all the time and thinking through the angles of the mission from every vantage point. The first time you hear an operator suggest a mission shift, lean in, it shouldn’t be that you are reacting for the first time. If you have thought of the perspectives of the mission and the support it needs inject, 'hey we're thinking about doing this - let me tell you what it would do from the logistical standpoint.' Alternatively, forcing those discussions into the conversation can offer a better solution overall.
ER: What can we do better as an organization?
General von Hoffman: The main thing we could do better is to apply what we have learned from our history as well as what we’ve learned from commercial practices and the technology that is out there and be able to employ that. It’s not just about buying things but understanding them. What works well within our Air Force that will promulgate across all the commands at different levels?
ER: Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?
General von Hoffman: I tried really hard during the first ten years of my career to not be seen as a female officer, but to be seen just as a 'good officer.' In 1989 they would say, "You’re the best female officer I’ve ever served with…" Of course, no one says that anymore, but that was the mentality at a fighter base in the 80s. In 1989, I just wanted to be the best officer I could be without letting gender be a part of it. I evolved my thinking though. I grew to appreciate that being the best officer you can be means competence, taking care of your people, and a whole lot of motivation, but also means recognizing that different genders bring different strengths and that shouldn’t be overlooked.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Captain Shelby Olivera is a U.S. Air Force Aircraft Maintenance Officer, currently serving as the Maintenance Operations Unit Commander for the 352 Special Operations Wing at RAF Mildenhall, England.