In this episode, Dr. Larry D. Parker, Jr. talks to AMU graduate student, James Hodgman, about his 20-year career in the U.S. Air Force. Learn how he pursued multiple degrees and certifications while on active duty, and why education has been such a focal point in his life. As he prepares to transition out of the military, James shares advice for other servicemembers and also reflects on the incredible personal and professional benefits from serving in the military.
Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Welcome to the podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Larry D. Parker, Jr. Today, we’re going to have a talk with a service member who has served our country all around the world, yet finding a way to be quite successful at pursuing his education. My guest today is James Hodgman, United States Air Force.
James, currently had your bio as being NCIC of Space Launch Delta 45 Public Affairs Office at Patrick Space Force Base. That’s interesting because I know the last time I was just out there it was not Space Force. But, James, it’s great to have you on the podcast.
James Hodgman: It’s great to be here. Really appreciate the opportunity.
Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Well I’ll tell you what we don’t want to do is short change everyone on just your story. I was quite impressed as I’m looking at it, you are truly a person that gives back. Just tell us a little bit about who you are before we go back in history.
James Hodgman: Man, who I am? I don’t often think about who I am. I grew up in Troy, New Hampshire – it’s small-town America. People often hear my voice and they say, you sound like you’re from the south, where you’re from? I’m like, I’m from Southern New Hampshire. Does that count?
I joined the Air Force in 2000, the summer of 2002 and that has taken me to a lot of wonderful experiences. Traveled the world. I’ve been to Germany. Originally came in Security Forces and I did that for six years and I retrained in 2009 into Public Affairs and that brought me even more opportunities and incredible experiences.
I have an amazing wife, she’s absolutely awesome, she’s a therapist probably so she can diagnose all of my issues. She’s given me two amazing kids. And you mentioned giving back, that is something I’ve always believed in and I’ve tried to teach that to my kids as well because you can always do something for somebody else.
Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Well, I really appreciate that and I will say first, thank you for your service and being a servicemember myself I know also, because she will most definitely probably listen to this, thank your family, thank your wife for her service, and supporting everything that you and your family does. So, thank you and thank you to them.
Again, I appreciate that recap and I want to make sure the audience understands before we start talking about some of the details of how you came to be and where you are now, we’re still going to take a little bit of a step back and just get context. So, why did you originally join the service? What was the calling to join any service?
James Hodgman: Well, I am from a small town and I wanted to do so much with my life. I wanted to get an education, I wanted to travel and do a lot of things and I knew I wasn’t going to get a scholarship. I was going to have to work my tail off to get that education. I learned that in the military you can get a 100% tuition assistance. They have the GI Bill and a lot of programs and benefits in place to help you along the way. And, I would do so while serving my country, and I thought that was a great option.
Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Okay, so education was important early on. But, I know some people are dying to ask, there’s quite a few recruiters offices and they tend to be lined up right next to each other. Why the Air Force?
James Hodgman: I first met with the Marines, I thought they looked sharp, I’ve always been impressed with the Marine Corps but they lost me when they said basic was 13 weeks. It sound a little long in my head. And then I met with the Navy, the Navy recruiter came out to my high school and we sat down, had a meeting, but they said theirs was like nine weeks. I was kind of close to going Navy, but they lost me when they said I could do six months on a ship and I might want to go for a walk or something and then not see the ocean all day, every day.
And then I met with the Air Force recruiter, he caught me in the gym, we were both working out one day and he was like, man, basic’s only six weeks long, man, six weeks. That’s what actually got me into his office. And, of course, you get down to San Antonio and they’re like, that’s actually seven weeks, James. It’s actually seven weeks, that first week don’t count.
Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: There it is in its truest form. Recruitment in its truest form. We appreciate that honesty and just how you looked at which one you were going to go but it was clear that you were going to serve was just what was right for you.
Now, you mentioned your first MOS or what we call Military Occupational Specialty. I don’t know if that’s exactly what the Air Force calls it, but why security forces?
James Hodgman: I was actually talked into going security forces. I wanted to go into broadcasting for the Air Force. I had passed all of the requirements. You have to pass an audition where they give you these tongue twisters. And I passed that, I was accepted into that program, but at the time there was a bonus for going security forces and there wasn’t for broadcasting. And the recruiter at the time was like, man, you could make a great security forces guy get $4,000 bonus. And I was like, “Hmm, I don’t know.”
And I was seeing a lady at the time and I didn’t really want to be outside of the country. And, so my recruiter was like, “Hey, you know, go security forces man, we need cops at every base. If you go broadcast that’s public affairs, greater chances of getting overseas, AFN and all that other stuff.” And so I was like okay, I’ll go to security forces. And so, I completed all the training and the first base I get is Ramstein Airbase, Germany. I was like, well that worked in a different direction.
Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: We’ll just pause there for the listeners to just recognize the flexibility and just what was happening with you as you were pursuing. The one thing you pointed out, you wanted to pursue education, but then the flexibility you had to go with where opportunities were, seems like it played a great deal in the first part of your career. Opportunities came and you moved with them.
I remember you saying education was a major part of why you enlisted and a lot of times individuals think it’s too hard to pursue your education while on active duty. And, actually let’s talk about tuition assistance, your first classes, after you got your feet wet, you’re out of basic, everything else. What was that? What was that first experience like getting back in the classroom?
James Hodgman: Well, for me it was at Ramstein, my first duty station, and I was in security forces and for those folks who don’t know, that’s like the version of the Air Force cop military police. So, it’s the Air Force version of that. And we were working 12-to-14-hour days. And so mission’s always number one, that has to take precedence in any military role. And so, security forces, they push their Airmen to get educated, especially in the Air Force. The Air Force pushes all Airmen to get an education. They have the Community College of the Air Force, which is I think is the only service that has a community college within its service. And they also push people to pursue bachelor degrees and things like that.
And the difficult thing for me while I was in security forces was trying to juggle the time, the requirements, everything you had to do while trying to pursue an education because you still had to be fit, you still had to be ready to go, you still had to do off-duty training. A lot of requirements on you as security forces member. You got to know your use of force model. You had to be qualified on your firearms every six months. So, you had to meet all of those requirements and there was no love, there was no breaks in between just because you want to pursue an education.
Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: But it’s clear that what you wanted was available and it just required that additional dedication to make it happen. Because like you said, at the end of the day it’s mission that has to get accomplished, that’s your job. But leadership will make it available or education accessible to you because as you mentioned, and I think it’s the same with all services, especially in our junior enlisted ranks you’re rewarded for education. Could you speak a little bit about that? I mean like someone going up for promotion that might not have a class or two up under their belt versus you taking a course?
James Hodgman: Definitely. Education is incredibly important and even if you’re just completing a class here and there, that shows commitment, that shows dedication to self-improvement, to making yourself better, both as a servicemember and as somebody who can contribute to the mission. It’s incredibly helpful.
As far as promotion, I recently supervised three Airmen and they all made, in the Air Force they have a competitive system to where you can sew on E4, senior Airmen, up to six months earlier than anybody else. It’s a highly competitive thing. And I was always pushing my Airmen to pursue education, not just in the classroom, but in any capacity they could find it. Whether that was something on a senior leader’s reading list or a webinar, a conference, a class, maybe a graphics course or camera course that we could take to enhance our skill sets on the job and take better photos or produce better graphics. I pushed them to do those kinds of things and every single one of my Airmen at Patrick Space Force Base was selected for below the zone. And I’ve never seen that in my life. I’m so proud of them. They’re absolutely amazing Airman and I think they’re all going to do great things.
Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: That’s great and appreciate your mentorship and I always when I can think of it, give a little mentorship towards financial planning, although I will put that disclosure, I’m not a financial planner. But for those of us that have been in the service we know every month or every year early, that’s real money. Those promotions that he mentioned, whether you start a year earlier or even a few months earlier, those promotions if you think about it, that carries over. You start earning that next rank. And so as your career goes on, the sooner or the earlier that you put on rank, you also set yourself up in a better financial position as well.
Well, James, I appreciate that. Now let’s look back. You’ve served at this point when you were talking about mentoring these servicemembers. How many years have you served?
James Hodgman: I just hit 20 years as of September 3rd.
Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Okay. And now it’s time for us to hit back or turn around and say if you had to do over again and speak to a young James Hodgman coming in today, what would you say in regard to them pursuing their career and their education or him pursuing his career and education today?
James Hodgman: That’s a good question. I think I would’ve followed my passion more knowing what I know now versus what I knew at the time or what I believed at the time. The best thing about going to Germany is I wound up meeting my wife and I wound up pursuing my education. It took a little while longer maybe to get my bachelor’s degree and two of my CCF degrees and ultimately my master’s down the road. But I met the most amazing woman I could ever think of and I’m so happy for that. And I don’t know what the story would’ve been, had I done things differently and kept the original goal I had set and gone for the broadcasting position. But, I think if I could go back in time, that’s one thing I would do. I would stick to my guns so to speak, and I would pursue that broadcasting opportunity within the Air Force because chances are, I probably would’ve been overseas at some point in time and who knows what would happened from there.
Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Okay, well James’s modest and he glossed over the fact, I mean he mentioned, but he didn’t go into detail. I just want to make sure as before I start asking him these other detailed questions on his education and recommendations to others. He has earned two associate degrees from the Community College of the Air Force. A bachelor’s degree in general studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and completed a Master’s degree in management from American Military University and not to hold off his management certification. So, this is a person who he knows his way around pursuing education. He’s a lifelong learner. And so, again, as you hear what he’s saying, it’s from experience. And so you said you just hit 20, I don’t know where you are in that career process of thinking. Are you still looking to go much further or are we now considering transition?
James Hodgman: I’m definitely considering transition. I have an approved retirement date from the Air Force of 1 March 2023 as of 28 February 2023, I’ll be separated and I’m looking to start the skill bridge internship here in Solano County at their public health office in Solano County, California. And I start that September 22nd. So I’m looking forward to that opportunity, doing that for the final six months of my military service time and then hopefully linking up and connecting in the civilian workforce and pursuing that next career.
Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Okay. Well, before we get too close to the hot seat, a lot of those that have listened to my podcast know I’m going to hit him with three questions here towards the end, but we’re going to get this fresh from someone who is currently preparing for transition.
We often talk of someone who’s already transitioned out of service, someone who’s early in their career, but this is someone who is still active duty and he has, as we call it, drop his papers. And with that, as you consider the decision and whether or not you were ready, and obviously you were, are there any things that you would offer other servicemembers when it comes to preparing with credentials, getting additional education, is there anything that you’ve learned in this transition process that you would offer as a nugget of knowledge for someone?
James Hodgman: Man, there’s so much I have learned that I would share with anybody and everybody who wants to listen. So, the first one thing I would recommend is starting early, don’t wait, don’t delay. If you think that your time is coming where you’re going to hit that button and whether it’s separate because you’re thinking about transitioning and you’re closing on the near the end of your contract, whether it’s four years, six years or whatever, or you’re thinking about hitting that button and going the retirement route, start as soon as you can.
And I recommend taking each branch of the military offers their own version of transition assistance program classes and those are usually about a week long. But there’s nothing saying you can’t take that class as early as you possibly can and then maybe even take it multiple times because, Department of Labor comes in, they do a whole presentation, there’s so much you learn on the VA disability application process side. And then in the class there’s also information about applying for jobs, LinkedIn, the value of social media. I mean I got my LinkedIn profile I think kind of where I want it, based off a lot of what I learned in there. They go through over your resume and the job interview process.
So, taking the time to do those things early on is really well within your interest. And, education, I cannot foot stomp education enough. So many people serve and they will leave the service that they’re in without a degree, without a certification. And you’re just setting yourself up to go maybe in a bad direction with that. With tuition assistance, with the GI Bill, with all the programs that are in place, go out there and get that degree and don’t wait to do that either. Because the longer you wait, the harder it becomes, whatever degree you’re going for.
And within the Air Force, they have a program called Air Force COOL, not exactly sure what the acronym breaks out down to. But they will pay up to $4,500 for Airmen to go out and get multiple certifications as long as they have funds in that pot. That’s how I was able to get the management certification that I have. And it’s also how I’m pursuing an accreditation in public relations right now. And I hope to have that wrapped up around December or January timeframe. So, get after it, don’t hold back. We all understand life and the mission happens and deployments happen and you could be doing permissive TDY or other temporary duties somewhere, but do not delay your future. Get after it. That’s what I would say.
Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Well, you just gave, as they would say, just a boat load, but we’ll say an airplane load or whatever, that’s a corny joke, of information and knowledge there and really pay close attention to what James just said there because it’s also true because, for example, especially when he said the jobs portion: paying attention, those that take it pay attention. I would not be sitting here if I was not paying attention. Actually, that’s how I found my job here. And James knows what I can imagine, they’re going through the websites, they’re clicking, they’re telling you where to find jobs. I happen to see American Public University listing there and during the break, they give us a short break over lunch, and I start making phone calls. So I just wanted to share that to validate what he’s talking about that those are valuable and you pay attention to every aspect because the job they’re showing you are live at the time. That’s not like they have a static screen and that’s how I found my job before I even retired. So that is great.
Pick back up on one thing he said, Air Force COOL. We’ll work to make sure that we have the link and the transcript when we post this. But this is something that he says is very important. And I can just imagine the more education and certifications you have before you step out because we know now, me being on the other side, your life is a little less predictable than when you were in the military. And so, those first few months you’re going to be running around doing some other things maybe even the first year, it’d be better to have that certification in hand. So take to heart what James just shared. I won’t delay any longer we’re going to put him on this hot seat and we’re going to get these three questions answered and we’ll see where his mind is in regard to the value of his service as a veteran and what he feels he’ll have to offer and what you’ll have to offer as you get out of service.
Now these questions on the hot seat, James, first word comes to mind and you can expound later, but number one: As a veteran, what is the greatest positive attribute you gained as a result of your service? Give me a word.
James Hodgman: Confidence.
Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Confidence. I like that. I like that. Number two: What is the single most important point you want to leave for current or future veterans? Give me a point.
James Hodgman: I think the single most important thing I could pass on to veterans and those currently serving is to maximize your opportunities. Do not let a development opportunity go by without latching onto it. There’s multiple opportunities for self-improvement, both in the service, outside of the service and through civilian institutions. Go after it, chase your dreams, chase those opportunities passionately and go after them hard.
Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Oh, I appreciate that. That’s great. And number three: What is the single most important benefit or edge future employers or business partners can expect from a veteran?
James Hodgman: There’s so many benefits to hiring a veteran, and it’s probably been said several times in the past, but it’s true. The single greatest benefit to hiring a veteran is the work ethic that veterans bring when they leave the military. They are dedicated to the organization objectives, achieving goals, and doing all they can no matter what’s required. So, the work ethic that veterans bring to the workforce I think it’s unmatched.
Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Wow. I appreciate you. As I expected you gave us some great, great answers and some great gold there. James, this has been such a great conversation. Anything else you’d like to add?
James Hodgman: I just want to thank you for the opportunity. I’m also incredibly thankful for all the experiences I’ve had in the military and I’m looking forward to all the experiences I’m about to have as a veteran. Just want to say thank you so much.
Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Well from everyone here, good luck to you. Again, thank you so much for sharing your expertise today for this episode. And to our listeners, thank you for joining us. Be well and stay safe.
Podcast featuring Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr., Lt. Col (retired), U.S. Marine Corps; Faculty, AMU and
James Hodgman, U.S. Air Force; Alumnus