Back in the 1990s, 1st Lt. Heidi J. Hoyle wanted to leave the Army after a five-year hitch but somehow botched the personnel action form to do so.
“I couldn’t figure out how to fill out that (DA Form) 4187,” said the current Chief of Ordnance and 1994 West Point graduate, chuckling about her ineptness.
Setting that episode of laughable clumsiness aside, now-Brig. Gen. Hoyle’s military biography is bulging with successes. Among them are her assignments as a maintenance support operations officer, 18th Corps Support Battalion; executive officer, 242nd Ord. Bn. (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; and commander, Special Troops Bn., 3rd Sustainment Brigade, during operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn.
Hoyle also served as associate professor, Department of Systems Engineering, U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.; and commander, 71st Ord. Group (EOD), Fort Carson, Colo.
The Bay City, Mich., native took the reins as COO in May 2018 after serving as commanding general, Joint Munitions Command and Joint Munitions and Lethality Life Cycle Management Cmd., Rock Island Arsenal, Ill.
In succeeding Brig. Gen. David Wilson as COO and its companion Ord. School commandant title, Hoyle became only the second female to hold the position in 208 years and the first from the EOD ranks. She spoke of her ascension and near two-year tenure with heaps of modesty.
“Whew! It’s been humbling,” she noted. “When you’re a second lieutenant in class, you hear about the Chief of Ordnance, and it’s like this mystical position. You might see this individual at your graduation (or when) they come and do PT with your formation. It’s like, ‘Who is that?’ There are generals, and then there is the Chief of Ordnance.”
The Ord. Corps’ mission is to “train, educate, and develop ordnance professionals and synchronize Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership, Personnel and Facilities solutions across the institutional, operational and self-development domains in order to build and preserve Army readiness,” according to its website.
While the no-nonsense Hoyle has worked tirelessly to make sure the corps is fulfilling its stated purpose, she also has embraced the role of booster, promoting the organization to those who might not be fully aware of its capabilities.
“My goals are wrapped up in our inner-vision statement,” she said, “which is ‘To be the first place ordnance professionals turn to for their DOTMLPF needs.’ If they’re turning to the Army G4 for something in the DOTMLPF spectrum, something that’s absolutely in my duty description, then what are we doing wrong? Do they not know who we are or not understand our capabilities? So, publicizing our mission – who we are and how we can help – is one of the biggest things, followed by earning trust and confidence as a result of helping people solve problems.”
As the chief, Hoyle presides over one of the most diverse branches in the Army. It boasts more than 40 officer and enlisted specialties, encompassing EOD, ammunition, explosive safety, and the mechanical and electronics maintenance career fields. It is the third largest corps with a strength of almost 100,000 personnel, most of whom are spread throughout the reserve components. The numbers alone are daunting, said Hoyle.
“If you think about some of the other branches, and the number of MOSs that are included in them … comparatively, the Ordnance Corps has 30 different enlisted MOSs. Wow!” declared Hoyle, also noting maintenance, ammunition and EOD are unrelated and distinct career fields.
While size and diversity are among the factors that make Hoyle extremely proud of being selected for the position, she said her own varied career path has helped to prepare her for such an organization.
“I am fortunate to be an individual who has touched into those (areas of concentrations) during my career,” she said.
Hoyle downplayed the fact she is the first EOD-trained officer holding the title of COO. She said, however, EOD was once a somewhat obscure function that has now emerged as an important player in the Army’s largescale combat strategy.
“There are stretches of time in EOD history when it was not integrated as much with the Army,” Hoyle said, “and now when you turn toward counterinsurgency and back into largescale combat operations, EOD absolutely needs to be focused with the Army.”
Of course as COO, Hoyle is not an EOD technician but a well-rounded logistician with the responsibility of assessing where the corps stands and where it needs to be. Major initiatives toward that goal include bolstering the school’s warriorization program, which ensures initial entry Soldiers are better prepared to support their gaining units and fulfill a bevy of Army Futures Command requirements on the day they show up at their first assignment.
In reference to the latter, Hoyle said her organization has been heavily focused on identifying processes, programs and equipment that can be considered force multipliers. They include decreasing dependence on contractor maintenance in theaters of operation; posturing a maintenance infrastructure for the increased use of robotics and related technologies; and determining requirements for additive manufacturing or 3D printing.
When Hoyle is not entrenched at her desk working on current and future issues, she is on the road, traveling far and wide to assess units, troops and activities. She acknowledged it is one of the more difficult aspects of her job.
“It’s such a huge piece; it’s tough to make observations everywhere,” she said. “As we do our battlefield circulation, sometimes we do it together as a command team – Command Sgt. Maj. Petra Casarez and Chief Warrant Officer 5 Danny Taylor – and sometimes we’ll bring in the director of training if it’s that area of focus …. We tailor the team for what we want to execute. That’s kind of how we prepare, but when you get out there, you’re like, ‘Man, I wish I would’ve had this expert with me’ or ‘Wow! I didn’t think I was going to see that.’
“There are things you learn each and every day,” Hoyle continued. “That’s what’s so incredible about this job – I still get to learn. I can’t know everything about everything we’re doing in every MOS or some of the things we’re doing for our officers and warrant officers.”
Hoyle’s travels have unveiled much. In the field of maintenance – the corps’ largest personnel sector responsible for sustaining the Army’s vast inventory of vehicles and equipment – she had always been familiar with what maintainers need to fulfill their missions. When Hoyle took over as COO, however, she became intimate with how interconnected those needs are.
“There are five things maintainers need in order to conduct proper maintenance,” she said. “Those are supervision, parts, tools, technical manuals and time. If you don’t have any one of those, you have an ineffective maintenance program. There is always a propensity, as you visit units, to point the finger at one, but sometimes it’s a combination and fixing one problem doesn’t necessarily solve the others.”
The knowledge Team Hoyle gains does not just wind up in a kitbag, being more likely to quickly appear in a program of instruction to benefit the total force.
“We’re always trying to empower our young officers and those who come back for the Sustainment Pre-Command Course (taught at the Army Logistics University across post),” she said.
Hoyle’s ambition to “empower” is not limited to officers. She endeavors to energize the entire team, noting part of effective leadership is taking the time to identify the strong suits of individual members and using them to strengthen the collective.
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link,” Hoyle pointed out. “I know it sounds cliché, but if you take the time to get to know every Soldier on your team, you’re going to find out someone has a specific skill, trait, characteristic or level of knowledge that’s going to make that team even better.”
“And so,” she summarized, “don’t write people off who you might initially perceive as weak or having some kind of shortfall because they do have something to contribute. You may not realize it right away but you may later.”
Hoyle said she learned that lesson years ago as a result of knowing a commander who always relied on one Soldier to complete the most critical missions. The troop was in danger of missing his Christmas vacation due to his competency.
“I said to the commander, ‘That Soldier needs to be home with his family; he needs to be rewarded.’ He said ‘I know he can get it done.’ I said, ‘Give me some time, and we’re going to train another Soldier to get it done.’”
Hoyle said the commander allowed her the opportunity to train another Soldier, and she got it done – a textbook example of “taking one for the team.”
In retrospect to her time here, Hoyle has taken more than a few for the team. Working with Ordnance Corps Soldiers and civilians all over the world has been a memorable and an enriching experience, she said. She anticipates her change of command will occur sometime in the summer (a replacement has not been named) and has no idea where she will end up next. In her mind, it is immaterial.
“Wherever the Army tells me to go,” Hoyle said in reference to her next change of station. “I have trust in the leaders. Are there certain places I want to go? Sure … but although we have a wish list, we find the goodness in each assignment, wherever it is.”
Spoken like a true, seasoned Soldier, not someone who contemplated ending her Army career before it had a chance to reach the heights that it did.