Women's History Month: Air Force's 'Top Cop' shares her secret to success

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Scott Sturkol and Staff Sgt. Paul Evans
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs
In her 31 years in the Air Force, Brig. Gen. Mary Kay Hertog has crossed many bridges and hit a few bumps during her ride on the highway of success. The overall trip though has been pretty smooth, she said, thanks to great people and a service that gave her many opportunities.

General Hertog serves as the Air Force Director of Security Forces at the Pentagon. She is the focal point for force protection within the Air Force and is responsible for planning and programming the security for more than 30,000 active duty and Reserve components' security forces at locations worldwide.

" Truly, the fact that I am the top cop attests to the Air Force truly embracing diversity and equal opportunity," General Hertog said.

Ascending to the post of the Air Force's top cop came with its challenges for General Hertog. When she joined the Air Force in 1978, she said her career field was more than 80 percent male and continues to be more of a male-dominated career field.

"We have very few female officers and we've always had few female officers," General Hertog said. "So for me to come up to be the top cop, I'd say it was a little unusual, but not unexpected because I've served in security forces throughout my career until I got to be a group and a wing commander and stepped outside the field. Those were probably some of the best assignments I've had."

General Hertog served as a security forces squadron commander three times - first for the 554th Security Forces Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., then later at the 377th SFS at Kirtland AFB, N.M. Her third squadron command was for the 86th SFS at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

After squadron command, she ascended to the post of group commander at the 37th Training Group at Lackland AFB, Texas. She then went to Langley AFB, Va., to be the Air Combat Command Director of Security Forces. Her wing command was at the 37th Training Wing at Lackland prior to becoming the Air Force's top cop in June 2006.

Through all of her command assignments, and even before, she said her success was partly due to her seeking out mentors for guidance.

"When I first got to my first duty assignment, it was an anomaly to see a female cop officer," General Hertog said. "I don't like to say and point out that I was the first in doing this or that as a female to be honest with you, but the anomaly was I didn't have a lot of female officers that I could use as mentors. So I found other mentors.

"A mentor can be anybody to you," she said. "It's just somebody I think you admire and is that person willing to invest time in developing you. I'm a big believer in growing your replacement."

In addition to mentoring, General Hertog said she knew throughout her career that she was breaking new frontiers for women and that meant she had to do the best she could do.

"Because I was given the opportunity to do a lot of firsts as a woman, I had to make sure that I did a really good job because I did not want to ruin it for other women coming behind me," General Hertog said. "That was always in the back of my mind."

General Hertog recalled that in the early years of her career in security forces, women were only allowed into law enforcement and not security. That eventually changed, however it was another one of those career challenges she overcame to move on to success.

"It wasn't until I had been in seven years when women could branch out into security," General Hertog said. "So the challenge was, in some cases, I was not able to get the training I needed but I was expected to know what it was. They didn't give women base defense training. That wasn't until a year later down the road that we opened that up to women."

There were other challenges early on, she said, but it wasn't because she was a woman - more because she was the new person in town.

"I think it was because I was a new second lieutenant and the Airmen like to test lieutenants when they first get you on flight," General Hertog said.

While she faced many challenges early in her career, she said she also learned the true secret of her success. She learned "you have to know your Airmen and your job."

"The bottom line is if you know your job and you take time to know your Airmen, they're going to respect you," General Hertog said. "They also have to understand that you're working for them, and I do. I look at my job as the director of security forces as I work for you -- I work for every single Airman."

As General Hertog continues her drive on the highway of success, she gave what may be her best piece of advice to be successful.

"It's not about (the rank) you wear on your collar or on your sleeve, it's what you've done for other people and the difference you make in the lives of others," General Hertog said. "Truly, leaving a place better than how you found it is the secret to being successful."