OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. - Carrie Hohler, secretary, U.S. Strategic Command chief of staff, will retire in April after serving the command for nearly three decades.
(photo by Dan Rohan)
OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. - Behind the glass doors at U.S. Strategic Command's command section, the sound of ringing phones, the clanking of keyboard keys, and conversations amongst personnel resonate intermittently and at various degrees of urgency. For Carrie Hohler, making sense of this organized chaos is all in a day's work and she wouldn't have it any other way.
After nearly three decades, Ms. Hohler has become well known at USSTRATCOM particularly for working under six different chiefs of staff for the past ten years, a position that grants her visibility to the command's top leaders. As she prepares to retire in April, she fondly recalls the spring of 1982 when she officially started duty at what was then known as the Strategic Air Command.
"I started work in the SAC XPHN office, which was aeronautical requirements, and I absolutely loved it," she said. "I was the only administrative person and this was before computers when everything was done on a typewriter or a word processor. I would prepare all the correspondence, TDY orders, anything an administrative person would do for all those offices. Sometimes my typing stack would be a foot high and I'm not exaggerating. "
When SAC stood down and was redesignated USSTRATCOM in June 1992, a drawdown of employees rippled through the command, adversely affecting the secretarial field. As a result, Ms. Hohler had the option to transfer to Langley AFB, Va. , to continue her work in plans, programs and requirements, but opted to stay at Offutt with her husband Robert Hohler, then a chief master sergeant.
"I could've moved to Langley but my husband and his job were here so I elected to stay," she said. "That got a little dicey because there was a drawdown and the secretarial field was hit the hardest. "
This transitional period proved to be a time of contention for Ms. Hohler as she was faced with the uncertainty of whether she would remain employed or not.
"When SAC stood down it was a very tumultuous time for those who had to move and those of us who stayed. Anyone who's been around will say there were seas of 'For Sale' signs for all the people trying to sell their homes," she recalled. "For me personally, I was almost without a job. Eleven years of civil service was about the cutoff in keeping a job and I was really close to those eleven years. I was literally within 15 minutes of not having a job. "
Her fear of unemployment was soon alleviated when a Friday evening phone call from civilian personnel brought forth a job prospect. Her boss enthusiastically pushed her out the door, insisting on closing shop for the evening so she could make it in time to sign for the job offer that was sealed in a manila envelope.
From June 1992 until March 1993, Ms. Hohler took a job as the secretary for the department of medicine at the 55th Wing's medical facility, the Ehrling Bergquist hospital. Although she held the position for only a short time before returning to STRATCOM, she found the work challenging.
"I'll never forget, there were about 50 of us at this nice little welcome breakfast and after that they gave us about a four-hour-a-day session of medical terminology," she said. "A session that would normally take six weeks, they gave it to us in four days, four and a half hours a day. "
Her crash course in medical jargon became a trial by fire when she was approached by the hospital administrator to take meeting minutes for the infectious control committee.
"Your minutes have to stand up in a court of law and that's kind of scary when they tell you that, so I bought myself a medical terminology book," Ms. Hohler said. "So I walked into that meeting room on that day . . . I sat in the middle and had my little recorder, with the grace of God, a pretty good memory and some terminology training-- it was scary. "
After transferring back to STRATCOM in 1993, she worked at the J6 until 2001, when she became the secretary to the Chief of Staff where she has remained since.
Of course, her time in civil service predates her work at SAC and USSTRATCOM as she initially began her career out of necessity. As a military spouse, she shadowed her husband to various assignments, including two different assignments to Offutt Air Force Base. After being reassigned from Offutt to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. , they faced some financial challenges that ultimately led Ms. Hohler on her career path.
"We had a son going to UNL (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) and we had a house here. We were putting two kids in parochial school in the D.C. area which is pretty expensive on an enlisted man's pay," she said. "A second income was necessary, so I decided if I worked at the Pentagon and rolled with Bob to work we wouldn't need a second car. "
After discovering that the Air Force wasn't hiring, she applied with the Army and landed a secretarial job with the Army surgeon general's office in the Pentagon. After her husband was reassigned back to Offutt AFB, the rest is history.
Many moments at the command have left a lasting imprint on Ms. Hohler, including events such as the Chinese delegation visit, the somber period of 9/11, and having the opportunity to meet various distinguished visitors. But one thing she holds dear in all the jobs she's had is the interaction with people.
"The most rewarding thing is being able to interface with people. The opportunity to mentor people new to STRATCOM and the operations of the CS office is very rewarding. There's always something new and exciting going on," Ms. Hohler said. Many have come to know Ms. Hohler for her strong work ethic and positive attitude.
"I can tell you that I've been around the building a long time and there are a few people in this building who are true 'go-to' people when you need to make something happen," said Ward Parker, Strategy and Integration. "She's a professional and she understands her job inside-out. So when you're around Carrie you can't help but be a better worker because by her actions, behavior, professionalism and attitude, it rubs off on you. "
Ms. Hohler's reach has also been felt by other secretaries who looked up to her as the ideal role model at the command.
"She was the one who had the knowledge and experience, so we would always go to her if we needed to know how to do something. She was always there. She took all of us under her wing no matter who the secretaries were," said Ramona Lucas, executive assistant to the Office of the Political Advisor.
As for her leaving, "It'll be sad, I'll cry, but I think that she deserves her time to go do what she wants to do," Ms. Lucas added.
So what does the future hold for Ms. Hohler?
"The first thing I want to do is sit on my deck, drink my coffee and read the entire morning paper," she said. "I plan to get reacquainted with my roses and garden. Bob and I have some plans to do some traveling stateside and abroad. "
Of course, Ms. Hohler plans to continue what she has become known for - interfacing and having a positive impact on people, and this time she has her sights set on something a little different.
"I've been thinking about getting our golden retriever, Bear, therapy dog training so we could visit hospitals and nursing homes," she said. "I love being busy so I'm sure my days will be full. "