A “non-traditional” path to success … Achieving Success in the Navy Supply Corps

Jan. 27, 2015 | By scnewsltr

The Supply Corps Office of Personnel has initiated a series of interviews, focusing on Supply Corps (SC) career management and what it takes to achieve success in Supply Corps careers. Our seventh article in this series is with Cmdr. Matthew Hoffman, SC, USN, who is currently at U.S. Special Operations Command. Lt. Cmdr. Allen Owens, SC, USN, Supply Corps Career Counselor (SC CC), interviewed Cmdr. Hoffman on his personal career path.

  SC CC: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Cmdr. Hoffman: I began my career in the Navy as a nuclear trained submarine electrician. I completed a bachelor’s degree in my off-duty [caption id="attachment_2757" align="alignright" width="240"]
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Cmdr. Matthew Hoffman, SC, USN time and was selected to go to Officer Candidate School immediately following being promoted to Chief Petty Officer. I completed a master’s degree in business administration during my off-duty time, a master’s in strategic studies from the Naval War College, and a post-graduate program in the Systems Engineering Program through the Naval Postgraduate School. My afloat tours include a CGN and an SSBN tour. I have had numerous shore tours including: overseas, industrial waterfront support, Fleet staff, Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP), NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center (back when they were called FISCs), and a combatant command headquarters. I had the very good fortune of being selected for a fellowship on the Chief of Naval Operation’s Strategic Studies Group (SSG) while I was at the War College. This was an amazing opportunity and I highly recommend that if you get the offer, jump on it! While I was at Special Operations Command (SOCOM) working in the J4, I was nominated to spend a year as part of the Commander’s Action Group (CAG) working directly for Admiral Olson. The CAG attended all briefs and meetings with the Commander and prepared his talking points, issue and decision papers and speeches. This provided a phenomenal opportunity to have a front row seat in some of the most critical decision making processes within Department of Defense, across U.S. government departments and with other nations. The Admiral was an absolute master of any subject he was involved with and a consummate professional. The time there was amazing for so many reasons, but it also had the benefit of providing a segue to be asked to help stand up an operational Special Operations Forces (SOF) headquarters in Afghanistan as the executive officer. Although this was a very challenging assignment, it proved to be an invaluable and eye-opening experience. The point of all that is to highlight that you never know what doors will open in any particular tour and where they will lead. SC CC: As a Junior Officer (JO), what drove your detailing strategy? Cmdr. Hoffman: I have always approached detailing in terms of what jobs seemed the most interesting and would best develop my skills and professional growth. I tried to choose jobs based upon what I could learn and contribute to the job, not necessarily as to what would “look good” on my record. I worked to get particular jobs without always understanding the big picture of career management. I think our community has come a long way in helping folks understand the ramifications of career choices. By having an engaged and honest dialogue with the Office of Personnel (OP), officers and detailers can cohesively determine what works best in balancing career progression and development and give insight to where the tradeoffs are. The efforts of NAVSUP leadership and OP over the years has moved the detailing process to a point where it is much more transparent to individuals going through the process in terms of what jobs are available, who is eligible and why, and what the job means within an overall career. I applaud the dedicated efforts at improving process transparency and understanding by those affected by those processes. SC CC: Providing logistics support to our undersea SEAL warfighters must present you with many unique challenges. However, if you had to pick one thing, what has been your greatest challenge in your current capacity? Cmdr. Hoffman: The challenges are many, but I wanted the job exactly for this reason. They have come in rapid succession and have often been uniquely challenging. The tool kit I have built over the years has given me the skills needed to effectively address these and other challenges, and I am adding to that kit every day! For example, within the first three weeks of taking over, we were asked to make a recommendation on how we could implement a 30 percent manpower reduction and still execute our mission. This has required making professional, non-personal recommendations up the chain of command based on understanding current and future requirements, proposing dramatically different organizational model to meet those requirements, and providing an achievable strategy to implement those changes, while meeting mission. Time will tell what leadership decides to do with those recommendations … The bottom line is … understanding the customer’s evolving mission, understanding my mission and resources available to support their needs, and effectively delivering platforms and capability they need in a rapidly changing resource environment is going to be tough for not just for me, but for everyone. SC CC: Ethics should be front and center of every decision that we make as Supply Corps officers. What do ethics mean to you, and would you care to share an example of an ethical challenge that you have faced? Cmdr. Hoffman: In my mind ethics means doing the right thing, at all times, regardless of who is watching. I believe the real challenge is the understanding of how each of our smaller daily actions set the tone and make an impact. As a community, each of our actions are cumulatively viewed by those whose resources we have been entrusted with. Resources like tax dollars, personnel (their time and their careers), and the authorities we have been given to execute our mission. As a professional corps, I believe each of us needs to be constantly mindful of what is the right way to operate in how we manage resources we have access to and what we recommend to the line communities we support. The answer of “we have always done it that way” or “find a way to do it” should be a yellow flag to go do some homework, looking into the rules and perhaps getting another opinion from the proper sources. Stand your ground when you know what the right thing is. SC CC: You have a wide diversity of tours: surface, undersea, and specwar. Of your assignments, which one (or two) stands out as being the most rewarding? Why? Cmdr. Hoffman: That is hard to say because of the order those tours have occurred; the discipline, demand for technical understanding and professionalism of the submarine community is very satisfying to me, but it also has a degree of inflexibility for a variety of good reasons. I like having the flexibility to solve problems ethically and creatively. The SOF community demands flexibility and creativity and embraces those who can effectively meet mission requirements within principled guidelines. My time at the SSG and then working with Admiral Olson at SOCOM have been highlights of my career- that is until I took over my own Command. Command is the pinnacle of any Navy officer’s career! SC CC: How do you maintain the all-important work/life balance? Cmdr. Hoffman: That is a tough question and an issue I have struggled with. Too often I have let the demands of the job or task at hand overcome what would be a more appropriate balance. Expectations on my performance, real or perceived, have caused me to spend too much time in the office or at home thinking about the office. My current job has deliberate and significant programs built into the schedule to foster good work/life balance, not only in terms of time away from work but also in terms of the quality of that time. I have found that the more senior I have become, the more internal pressure I put on myself to focus on work and work related issues, to the detriment of a healthy work/life balance. I have learned that it is critical for leadership to set clear expectations for balancing work demands, but more importantly, lead by example. I am still growing in my own skills at setting healthy boundaries and expectations for myself, those working for me, and those I am working for. I am writing this on Saturday at work and just called my XO in off of leave to come in and review it for me … I am kidding! SC CC: What guidance would you provide to junior officers? Cmdr. Hoffman: Do what you love but keep your mind open to learn what that may be. Seek to learn and grow wherever you are – do it for yourself, your family, your organization, and your community. Not every job will be fun or interesting, but make the most of it because you never know what the long term benefits or opportunities will be. SC CC: Who or what inspires you (military or non-military)? Cmdr. Hoffman: Capt. Dion English. Every office should have one. He is a fabulous officer and absolutely hilarious! Ok, there are lots of folks I have gained insight and inspiration from - both to be more like them and to make sure I am not like them. I spent a great deal of time with an Army SOF officer, MG Ed Reeder, who was an absolute master at every aspect of his work and enabled and expected the same from everyone around him. Although he could apply withering reprisals when people failed to meet his expectations (I know that from personal experience!), his mastery of his profession and his skill as a leader is amazing and a standard I want to emulate. SC CC: What is the “secret sauce” to success in the Supply Corps? Cmdr. Hoffman: I don’t think it is a secret at all. Our community is one of the best at advertising and mentoring what the keys to success are - from Road Show briefs to OP staff engagement and to senior leader access—all are tools to help folks understand what the options are to manage individual careers. Understanding what your career goals are is the hard part as they change over time. Doing the best you can, wherever you are, is what makes the difference between success and mediocrity.

*Special thanks to Cmdr. Hoffman for sharing his time, perspective, and experience.*