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General shares insights on accomplishments

  • Published
  • By Susan Griggs
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
After eight months on the job, Maj. Gen. Mary Kay Hertog, 2nd Air Force Commander is enthusiastic about what her team has accomplished since she arrived at Keesler AFB, Miss., and what she has learned during her AF career.

General Hertog shared her Air Force story April 19 with Keesler's Order of Dadaelians, a fraternal and professional organization of American military pilots.

"What 2nd Air Force does touches the entire Air Force," she explained. "We have four wings -- Keesler is one of them, two groups, 110 different training locations with detachments and operating locations where we do about 93 percent of the Air Force's technical training."

General Hertog noted 2nd Air Force's expanded role in training about 8,000 joint expeditionary tasking Airmen who deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan to work for the Army.

"They learn to speak Army -- they go to Army installations for 30 to 60 days to train and learn what they're going to do with the Army," she said. "We send in Air Force commanders and small staffs to each location to make sure our Airmen are taken care of in terms of training. We've been doing this for several years now, and we've developed a great relationship with our sister services."

In retracing her Air Force career, General Hertog said she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her dad, a security forces veteran of World War II and the Vietnam War and an Air Force security forces officer.

"I was a feminist at an early age and I wanted to do equal work for equal pay," she recalled. "I went to Miami University in Ohio on ROTC and basketball scholarships, but tended to pay more attention to basketball than to ROTC."

The general mentioned that a few weeks ago, she was in San Antonio for the NCAA women's basketball championship to speak to the final four teams about how her experiences with the sport contributed to her success in the Air Force.

"Leadership, learning how to follow, learning that you're only as strong as your weakest link so you have to bring that person along ... those are some of the things I shared with them," General Hertog said.

After earning a degree in criminology and an Air Force commission, the general was determined to go into military law enforcement, where she's spent 25 of her 32 years in the Air Force.

"My dad sat me down and said, 'For God's sake, don't become a cop in the Air Force,'" she remembered. "There were few women in the career field and it was hard enough for a man, much less a woman -- I didn't listen to my dad as a kid, so why would I listen to him as an adult?"

The general decided she wanted to go out west to Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., sight unseen. She later learned she got her first selection because no one wanted to be a cop and no one wanted to work in nuclear surety.

"It was a pretty tough job, but I loved it," General Hertog remarked. "In security forces, we're really fortunate to work with the greatest enlisted corps in the military. As a lieutenant from day 1, I supervised 79 people. That was my first flight, and in security forces we were able to command early and command often -- 2nd Air Force is my sixth command."

She was a colonel working at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, when she was selected for command of the 37th Training Group at Lackland AFB, Texas, which at the time gave her a chance to rejoin her husband of nearly 31 years, retired Chief Master Sgt. Herm Hertog, after five years of living apart.

"I was stepping outside my comfort zone," General Hertog said of the Lackland assignment. "I felt like they were speaking in tongues to me, but it was a tremendous assignment because we got to train recruiters, security forces, services, military training instructors, military working dog handlers, finance, supply and battlefield Airmen."

She was pulled back to security forces as director of security forces for Air Combat Command, and when her name came out on the brigadier general list, she expected to be sent back to the Pentagon, but instead moved back to Lackland as the 37th Training Wing commander, "something very few people in the security forces career field get an opportunity to do."

Almost four years ago, General Hertog became the "top cop" in the Air Force at the Pentagon for three years, a job she acknowledged as the hardest job she's ever had.

"We had the perfect storm -- low manning, high deployments, everything going on at one time," she admitted. "That old saying, 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger,' was very true."

The general was planning for retirement when she was selected for promotion to major general, the first person in the security forces career field to achieve that rank.

"I knew the job I wanted was to command 2nd Air Force -- I knew I'd be a perfect fit in terms of preparation," she pointed out. "The stars aligned and eight months ago I came here to assume command, and it's been a wonderful ride.

"I didn't accomplish this by myself," she stressed. "My family, my husband, the enlisted force got me where I am today.

The general said her leadership philosophy is simple -- try to make a difference in someone's life. She related several experiences in which Airmen have let her know that she had made hard decisions which got them on the right track after all.

She said she also believes, "You're either outstanding or you're outprocessing -- we're not going to pass along a problem to somebody else."

General Hertog said she's glad the Air Force is recognizing families by hosting the Year of the Air Force Family because "spouses give up so much of their lives, their careers, to follow that active-duty member around."

She said that her responsibilities sometimes keep her awake at night "because we do a lot of dangerous training in our jobs -- we throw hand grenades, we jump out of airplanes, we fire incredible weapons, we do combat dives, we climb poles, we blow things up for (explosive ordnance disposal).

"That's why it's so important for us to produce the right Airmen at the right time with the right skills," she emphasized.

The general noted how doing just that also creates challenges that the15-year high in retention is creating for the Air Force.

"We're 5,000 people over our authorized end strength and the Air Force has decided -- and rightly so -- that we have to bring those numbers down, but we hope to retain a lot of these folks by shifting them over to the Guard and Reserve," she said.

As she looks toward retirement in a few years, General Hertog said she feels good about what she and her team have been able to accomplish for the Air Force.

"The trust we have in our Airmen is phenomenal," she said. "We allow these young men and women to do so much at such an early age. I'm so proud that they've chosen to make a commitment to something bigger than themselves. These young men and women have been in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past nine years doing a tremendous job. They've grown up fast and we're going to have some combat-hardened veterans that will be our future Air Force leaders."

General Hertog opened and closed her talk by urging members of the Dadaelians to share the Air Force story. She mentioned her father had begun writing about his experiences before he passed away last December.

"You represent the Air Force's rich heritage -- write down what you did in the military, especially any World War II veterans," she requested. "You all have a wonderful story to tell and we need to capture it. People are actively looking for your stories, and we owe you a great debt of thanks.

"I know many of you have read Tom Brokaw's book, 'The Greatest Generation,'" General Hertog said. "We have another great generation that we're bringing up, and I know I'll be leaving the Air Force in good hands."