TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
The message at the Women's History Month luncheon was that the future for Air Force women is a bright one. When Col. Patricia Hoffman left the podium March 30, following her keynote address, she had painted a picture of her own storied Air Force career. Gender, she said, hasn't been a limiting factor for her, which is largely due to the women who went before her.
"I've had two or three generations of pioneer women in front of me," said Colonel Hoffman, the 552nd Air Control Wing commander. "I know they went before me and knocked down a lot of barriers so those barriers really haven't been there for me."
But Colonel Hoffman's story of equality dates back to her earliest memories of life in northwest New Jersey. She was one of eight children and grew up sharing chores among her brothers and sisters.
"I grew up thinking there was no girls' work or boys' work," Colonel Hoffman said at the annual luncheon sponsored by the Tinker branch of the national Federally Employed Women organization. "Everyone just shared the work. We did grow up in a very gender blind type environment. There wasn't anything that I thought I couldn't do, I just went ahead and did it."
Because of the large number of children in the family and the need to hand down clothing from one to the next, Colonel Hoffman's parents used a lot of gender-neutral color clothing for her and her siblings, lots of tans, greens and yellows as opposed to the traditional pinks and blues for girls and boys respectively she said, and her parents simply taught them how to work together in what needed to get done. This upbringing instilled in her the value of merit-based professionalism, not one based on a specific gender.
As a woman, her various duty assignments have put her in some unique challenges, however. Earlier in her career, during one deployment in Bosnia, she had to share quarters with three male officers because of limited bunk space. The officers resolved the issue without conflict through mutual respect and professionalism, Colonel Hoffman said.
The 552nd ACW commander said she believes strongly in respecting the rank, regardless of gender or personal bias. She has received mutual respect in her years in the Air Force, she said, even as a junior officer.
As a captain at her second duty station, she found herself in the role of ground control squadron officer, doing ground radar work in South Korea. She was the first woman to hold the post, but all the Airmen gave her utmost respect, she said.
"For me, I was just doing my job," Colonel Hoffman said. "I didn't think whether a female officer should be doing that or a male officer, I was just doing it."
Colonel Hoffman is quick to recognize that her career in the Air Force wouldn't be the same without the work of previous female officers.
"Recent generations of women right here at Tinker Air Force Base have paved the way, women like Lt. Gen. Terry Gabreski, Maj. Gen. Judith Fedder and Brig. Gen. Lori Robinson," Colonel Hoffman said. "Generals Gabreski and Fedder truly broke down a lot of barriers in the aircraft maintenance and logistics field, and General Robinson was a trailblazer in operations."
It's no easy accomplishment to rise to the position of O-6. There have been significant challenges that Colonel Hoffman faced to wear the weighty "full bird" on her collar. Some of these challenges have been gender related, but most haven't, she said. A simple parable often guides her through these challenges. She draws on her Irish heritage for a story about overcoming difficulties.
"There's an old Irish saying," Colonel Hoffman said, "that goes "How do you get over a wall that's too high? You throw your hat over to the other side." Because if you throw your hat to the other side, no matter how high that wall is you're going to go over it, through it, or around it--whatever it takes to get your hat back. I never really checked to see whether it's a "male wall" or a "female wall", it's just a wall and I'm going to throw my hat over and see what happens."
Several women earned awards, given out by local officers with Federally Employed Women. The following women were recognized:
- Col Mary Gillman, 72nd ABW/SC
- Master Sgt. Ronda White, 552nd OSS
- Airman 1st Class Jennifer Ponder, 33rd CCS
- Beverly Jones, 448th SCMW
- Delia Juarez, 448th SCMG