In the past three and a half years, he’s overseen the reorganization of the Air Force’s most complex and diverse command, managed some of the most drastic budget reductions in the service’s history and been a champion of energy conservation.
Gen. Donald Hoffman’s tenure as commander of Air Force Materiel Command has been anything but normal, if there is a norm for someone who leads a worldwide organization of 83,000 people.
But after 42 years, Hoffman will relinquish command of AFMC and retire following a June 5 change of command ceremony.
In November 2008, Hoffman assumed the top position for the command responsible for the research and development, acquisition, test and sustainment of the Air Force’s current and future weapon systems.
In response to a Department of Defense call for more efficient use of tax dollars, Hoffman presided over the restructure of AFMC – the most radical change to the organization in its 20-year history. Upon completion of the reorganization, AFMC will shrink from 12 centers to five, cutting overhead and eliminating layers of management while standardizing processes across the command. The planned reorganization will reach initial operation capability in October 2012 and become fully operational during the summer of 2013.
In a recent interview, Hoffman reflected on his time spent in the Air Force, during which he witnessed much change.
Q: How does the Air Force of today compare to the one you entered in 1970?
A: A major difference has been the acceptance of diversity on many fronts. When I first arrived at the cadet area of the Air Force Academy in 1970, there was a huge sign that said “Bring me men.” So to be succeeded in command by the first female four star of the Air Force is truly a legacy of this time period. Diversity is important so that all members of the Air Force, no matter their background, beliefs or gender can feel that they are part of a team that embraces their strengths.
Q: What are some of the significant events that occurred during your career?
A: We fought and won the Cold War, we leveraged technology in how we fight, and we introduced the notion of cyber. The pervasiveness of computers in our lives and in war fighting has been significant throughout my career.
Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced during your time here at AFMC?
A: One of the challenges was the two reorganizations we’ve gone through. By nature I am not a reorganizer. I usually accept organizations that I’m part of for what they are and optimize within the system that exists. But we were faced with circumstances that forced change, and we had to adapt.
Q: What will you miss most about the Air Force?
A: I will miss the people and the ability to be able to work in an organization where you start off with the premise that you immediately trust each other. You see someone in the Air Force and unless proven otherwise, you immediately trust them. Hypothetically, if I were at a grocery store with my kids and one of them jumped out of a cart and hit themselves on the head and had to be rushed to the hospital, and I didn’t have time to worry about both children but I saw a staff sergeant in uniform shopping — I would have no reservations taking that child and giving it to that staff sergeant and saying, “Watch my child, I’m going to the hospital.” I would know that that person would care for that child and repatriate them. You wouldn’t do that to anybody in a grocery store. But I identified that person as a member of the Air Force who is totally reliable — someone I can trust sight unseen, without even knowing them. That’s what I will miss. That sense of community and mutual trust.
Q: Is there anything you would like to add?
A: It has been my good fortune to be part of the best Air Force in the world for 42 years. It was the best Air Force in the world when I joined it. It’s smaller now, its missions have changed somewhat now, but it is still the best Air Force in the world, and I have total confidence that those that follow me will keep it the best Air Force in the world. I lose no sleep whatsoever on the quality of leadership that the Air Force has today and will continue to have.