Public service can become a passion that captures the attention of a young person and leads to a journey with many interesting twists and turns, thus pushing the individual into an entirely unexpected, yet rewarding, career destination.
For Linn resident Ron Hoffman, his intent to enter law enforcement formed at an early age, began with the U.S. Air Force and has led him to an entirely unanticipated profession.
"I joined the Air Force in 1979 while I was still in my senior year at Linn High School," said Hoffman. "I thought the world was much bigger than anything in Osage County," he chuckled.
Signing a six-year enlistment, Hoffman had for many years wished to become a deputy sheriff, believing the Air Force might provide him with law enforcement training that would serve as a stepping stone for such a career.
The 17-year-old recruit traveled to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in January 1980 to complete several weeks of basic training. He remained at the Texas base for weeks of additional training to become a member of the Security Police (now known as "Security Forces) — the Air Force equivalent of law enforcement officers.
"During our training, much of what we learned was what you would consider to be routine law enforcement functions like conducting searches and traffic stops on an air base," Hoffman explained. "Our training also focused on aircraft security, missile security, and the security and protection of the weapons storage areas."
When his initial training was completed in the fall of 1980, he traveled to his first duty station at Blytheville Air Force Base (AFB) near Blytheville, Arkansas, which later became Eaker AFB but has since closed. At the time of Hoffman's arrival, the base was home to the 97th Bomb Wing and B-52 bombers prepared to deploy in the event of a Cold War threat.
"The base was part of Strategic Air Command and everyone there was invested in the Cold War mission — to serve as a deterrent to the Russian threat," the veteran said. "My primary mission was entry controller/nose guard to the B-52s, controlling the entry of people into the secured areas where the B-52s were located.
"I also went through the training to become a member of the tactical neutralization team, which was the Air Force's equivalent to a SWAT team," Hoffman said. "I ended up becoming an instructor for that."
After serving two years at the Arkansas base, the young airman received his first overseas assignment with the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing at the former Royal Air Force Station Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire, England.
As noted in an article appearing in the Daily Mail (a British national daily newspaper) on Aug. 19, 2016, the now "abandoned and decaying air base" was at one time "a bustling base key to the operations of the Cold War and home to American forces in Britain."
Hoffman recalled, "In England, we had many F-111s (a multi-purpose tactical fighter bomber) that were loaded with nuclear weapons." As was the case in Arkansas, the aircraft were part of our Cold War deterrence and had 15 minutes to get off the ground in case of an alert, he added.
During his two-year tour in England, Hoffman continued in his duties of entry control and base security, which he views as essential duties he strove to perform to the best of his ability and have since become a source of satisfaction.
"There are a lot of people who guard the fences (around a base) but only one person opens and closes the gate," he said. "That just so happened to be me, and I fully understood the importance of what we were doing, and I am proud to have been part of that mission."
While stationed in England, two important events occurred in the airman's life — he had the opportunity to visit several countries and was able to return home in 1983 to marry Veronica Kennedy. His wife later enlisted in the Missouri Air National Guard and retired as a master sergeant with 22 years of active duty service.
Leaving England in December 1984, Hoffman was transferred to F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, as a "missile cop" protecting the Minuteman II missiles. Shortly after his transfer to Wyoming, his daughter was born and the following year, in August 1985, he was discharged from the Air Force.
Upon discharge, he remained with the Air Force in a reserve capacity and returned with his family to Linn, where he and his wife became parents of two more children.
The veteran went on to spend a quarter-century working as a bricklayer while continuing his career of public service by gaining certification as an emergency medical technician in June 1986.
Though his initial desire to serve as a deputy never became a reality, Hoffman has been active with his local fire department and serves as chief of the Linn Fire Protection District. He has since deployed several times with the reserves and retired as a senior master sergeant with 32 total years of military service. In 2010, he was hired full-time with the Cole County Emergency Medical Service.
"Just like everyone in the military, we learned to work together as a team and developed skills that could often be used once we left the service," Hoffman said in describing the benefits he has derived from his time in the Air Force. "And it's these teams that contributed to the nation's safety.
"The espirit de corps that I benefited from while serving in the Strategic Air Command was certainly one of the highlights of my career. All of the great professional men and women that I had the honor of working with often sacrificed a lot of their time away from their families and their personal safety to protect everyone else's freedoms."
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.