02.01.2017 -- CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan — “Every time I smell eucalyptus trees, it reminds me of [Marine Corps Recruit Depot] San Diego and that feeling is stronger than any feeling I’ve had as an officer,” said Col. Randall Hoffman, the G-35 future operations officer for III Marine Expeditionary Force. “The experiences have been greater on the officer side, but my fondest memories are during my time as an enlisted Marine.”
Hoffman, from Danville, Indiana, enlisted in the Marine Corps on Dec. 8, 1984, and after 32 years of service, is a Marine worth his salt.
He has combat experience, serving with multiple reconnaissance units as both an enlisted Marine and commissioned officer. He has done tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, having served in operations Guardian Retrieval, Assured Response, Noble Obelisk, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
Why did he want to transition from enlisted to commissioned officer?
“The main reason I wanted to become an officer is because of the people, and I wanted to lead Marines,” Hoffman said.
He described his adoration of the Marine Corp’s mantra of leading at the lowest level. A “pivotal point” in his life was when he participated on a division level board for a meritorious promotion to sergeant.
He found inspiration from his platoon sergeant and his company first sergeant and considered them to be “the epitome of leadership.”
“They’re the kind of leaders you see and look at and you’re like, ‘Man, that guy’s got it all together. I want to be like that person,’” Hoffman said.
His company first sergeant was an inspiration because he held himself to a promise he made to his Marines. He told them that if anyone were to make it to a division level promotion board he would treat them to a steak dinner. Even though he placed second at the board, Hoffmann still got his steak.
During the meal, his first sergeant encouraged him to strive to be better as a Marine, provided advice on excelling in the Marine Corps and ensured him he would support him in his efforts.
“Those two pieces resonate in my mind; why I came into the Marine Corps, and why I wanted to continue to advance myself,” said Hoffman. “Everything in the Marine Corps, in my opinion, after being in for 32 years, is about people.”
He has since tried to emulate the type of leadership that inspired him.
While serving as the commanding officer at Instructor Battalion, The Basic School, Quantico, Virginia from 2012 to 2014, he told his senior enlisted advisors that he still wanted to know his men, which seemed like an impossible task to his sergeants major.
He was in charge of more than 700 Marines and every first Wednesday, he would seek out a squad of his Marines to do nothing more than to get to know them. He asked questions about them, their life at home, general interests and would share something about himself as well. He told officers in his command, that if he knew more about their men than they did, they were in the wrong.
Hoffman said he relates to junior Marines whenever he walks by them and reminisces of when he was young enlisted Marine.
“It’s pretty cool being an officer after being enlisted for ten years because you remember what it’s like to be a lance corporal in the hallway when that colonel walks by,” said Hoffman. “I always make a point to know every Marine’s story because of this. I feel like my time on the enlisted side has helped make that significant to me and made me better as an officer.”
A big part of his desire to become a commissioned officer was his curiosity about how operations were planned, military history and he also wanted to have more input into designing military operations.
His transition also made him realize how small the Marine Corps was.
“My drill instructor at Officer Candidate School was the same drill instructor I had eight years prior in boot camp,” said Hoffman, referring to retired Gunnery Sgt. David McKenzie. “Immediately when he saw me get off the bus for OCS, he made me do pushups. He said he couldn’t believe I would let him do this twice to me in one lifetime. We ended up being really close friends.”
His continued motivation for becoming a commissioned officer, after serving 10 years as an enlisted Marine, is to remain active in his Marines’ lives. He said he holds his Marines in the highest regard.
“It’s not about the (military occupational specialty). That’s what I always tell my daughter,” said Hoffman. “The thing you miss most when you get out of the Marine Corps or when you are away from Marine units... are the Marines.”