Chief makes Air Force career worldwide experience

  • Published
  • By A1C Clinton Atkins
  • 66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
To travel the world doing what they love to do is a dream of many people. For one Hanscom chief, that dream came true.

Chief Master Sgt. Diane J. Hammer, 66th Medical Group superintendent, will continue on to serve more than 30 years in the U.S. Air Force as the operations coordinator for the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria.

A native of Flint, Mich., Chief Hammer enjoyed traveling as a child. It has always been her passion.

Though she wasn't raised in a military family, the chief's parents frequently took her on vacations during school breaks, including many locations within the U.S., as well as Jamaica and England.

Just three months after the Vietnam War ended in 1975, Chief Hammer graduated from high school, with her thirst for worldly experiences unquenched. She immediately joined the Air Force to pursue her dream of traveling the world. "Joining the military was not a popular thing to do -- especially for a female," the chief said.

But opinions of the time didn't stop her from pursuing her dream.

Fate seemed to set the course of a career filled with travel. Her first assignment was at Utapao Air Base, Thailand, where she worked as an administrative specialist.
Traveling abroad seemed to fit the chief; submerging herself into the foreign country's culture came naturally to her, she said.

The chief recalled her experiences at the tender age of 18, in a foreign country so different than the United States.

"Never having been in a Third World country for any length of time, I was surprised at the level of poverty. The outside laborers on base worked for 60 cents a day; dorm residents hired a local Thai girl to do wash and iron clothes, shine shoes, clean rooms and accomplish any details -- all for a mere $7 per person per month."

Although poverty was extreme, the Thai people were friendly and proud, the chief said.

Within her first four years of military service, Chief Hammer had three assignments -- two of which were at overseas locations. In addition to serving in Thailand, she served at Kadena Air Base, Japan, where she had the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with the SR-71 Blackbird "spy plane" program.

She was later also stationed twice at Lajes Air Base, Azores, Portugal -- first in July 1989 and again in December 2000. No matter where she served overseas, she took advantage of the many travel opportunities a military career offered.

During her second assignment to the Azores, she visited eight of the nine islands within the Azores Archipelago as well as Lisbon and Oporto, Portugal. "Each island was unique in its own way, she said. "There was so much to do and see there."

Throughout her career, she also visited Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Hokkaido, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Korea, Guam and Germany. On one of her trips to the Philippines, she visited Subic Bay, where her father was stationed during World War II.

An avid photographer and history buff, these were among the countries she studied and photographed. "As an 'Ambassador in Blue', it's crucial to be cognizant of your surroundings, culture and people. My two children, ages 22 and 26, are also more culturally aware due to the different locations they lived."

Since her arrival at Hanscom in August 2003, she has visited the Bahamas, Antigua, Barbados and Egypt. "I joined the Air Force to see the world and I've certainly done that," she said.

Along with witnessing first-hand the changing global scenes, she has also been a witness to an evolving Air Force. "I have definitely seen a lot of changes in the last 30 years," Chief Hammer said. "The new utility uniform will be the fourth since I've been in the Air Force."

The chief's love for world experiences, her job and the Air Force, is what has kept her serving her country, and brought her so much satisfaction. "I've just been taking it year by year, she said, "Once I hit that 10-year point, I knew I was going to make it a career."

After she reached 20 years, she also never imagined she would have the opportunity to stay in for more than 30 years. The chief said she couldn't imagine herself doing anything other than serving in the military.

"This is the only way of life I've known since I've been an adult; it's been a great career and provided me incredible training and skills; it's an honor being part of the Air Force family" she said. "Once I stop having fun and feel like I'm not making a difference with the people or mission, then it's time for others to take my place."

Facing retirement at 30 years in the Air Force, and not ready to retire, it seemed once again fate presented her the opportunity she was waiting for.

With her interests overseas, Chief Hammer jumped at an opportunity to apply for a newly advertised attaché specialist special duty assignment.

"I always wanted to be an attaché specialist -- for the past seven years or so -- but the timing was just never right," Chief Hammer said. "To see a different perspective of the Air Force from the State Department level has always been appealing."

She "threw her name in the hat" and applied for two U.S. Embassy positions. She was nominated as the only volunteer for the position in Nigeria.

As with any assignment, it's always better to have a volunteer versus a non-volunteer -- especially at an impoverished location such as Nigeria, the chief said. "I feel the attitude is more positive as a volunteer."

Chief Hammer said she was ecstatic when she found out that she was nominated for the position. However, one more obstacle stood in her way before she could obtain her dream job -- she had to rescind her retirement orders and then request a High Year of Tenure waiver.

Now, all she has to do is prepare for her late December departure. The chief will spend almost five months in Washington D.C., to train for her new position, and then report to Nigeria in May 2007.

Living in Nigeria will present Chief Hammer with unique challenges -- there is no commissary or Base Exchange as servicemembers are accustomed to having at overseas assignments.

She will be authorized to ship 2,500 pounds of consumables in addition to her weight allowance to help offset local expenses during her two-year tour to Africa.

"Planning to ship two years worth of non-perishable food items and hygiene items has been a real challenge to figure out," Chief Hammer said. "I'm sure there will definitely be some care package requests."

Aside from bringing food and everyday consumer products, purchasing items in Nigeria will also prove to be a challenge. The chief said prices on some items are up to three times higher in Nigeria than in the U.S.

"I was told to bring an ice cream maker, as ice cream is about $10 a pint," Chief Hammer said.

Even though the distance from home will be great and finding what she may need could be difficult, she said she is looking forward to the travel and immersing herself in the Nigerian culture.

Staying in contact with her family shouldn't prove to be too great of a challenge either.

Chief Hammer said the U.S. Embassy encourages assigned personnel to use secure Internet service. The embassy also has phone capability to connect with various stateside bases, understanding the importance of staying in touch with family.

"As with any assignment, leaving friends and family is always a difficult thing to do, but as long as I can stay in contact with them, it's going to be OK."

Chief Hammer will interact daily with a small staff of military members from all branches of service as well as local Nigerians.

While working for the embassy, her duties will include managing and maintaining a Defense Attaché Office budget and fiscal data, maintaining DAO information reporting requirements, and coordinating U.S. Naval ship visits and U.S. military aircraft over-flight and landing clearance with host country officials.

The chief will also coordinate DAO support requirements with embassy officials, and perform office administrative logistical and operational support duties according to Defense Intelligence Agency standards.

Since there is limited medical care available, Chief Hammer will also coordinate medical and dental evacuations out of the country.

Chief Hammer knows the challenges she will have to face. Nothing will stop her from doing what she has loved to do for the past 30 years -- serving her country. She said she now looks forward to the next chapter in her service and travels.

So, what does Chief Hammer plan on doing while she is in Nigeria for two years? She will take an African Safari, of course, as well as take advantage of any other adventures that may arise.

Her dream is to take a trip around the world after she completes what will be a 32-year career in the Air Force.

For those currently serving, Chief Hammer offers the following advice, "Take advantage of your opportunities, pursue your dream, and whatever you do in life, plan for the future."