By Senior Airman Kayla McWalter, N.H. Air National Guard Joint Forces Headquarters
/ Published August 04, 2015
PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. -- Brigadier Gen. Carolyn Protzmann, New Hampshire Air National Guard assistant adjutant general (ATAG), plans to retire Aug. 8, 2015 after 36 years of honorable service to the U.S. Air Force.
Protzmann comes from a catholic family that drove her passion and desire to help others. She never realized that such desire would turn into such a successful and rewarding career that helped pave the paths for many men and women.
"Service to one another is what has always driven and inspired me," said Protzmann. "Service of any kind that someone's life, somewhere, somehow can be better because of one contribution I have made."
Growing up the military wasn't always a known factor for Protzmann. She enrolled at the University of New Hampshire where she obtained her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in 1977. Protzmann still had the burning desire to help others and discover what she was meant to do.
Shortly after obtaining her degree, Protzmann made the decision to begin a career in the U.S. Air Force.
"It wasn't until I joined the military that I discovered that it was for me," said Protzmann. "I had found my calling that I wouldn't have necessarily migrated to."
After gaining her commission in 1979, Protzmann was quickly shipped off to her first duty station where she was the first female maintenance officer with the 375th Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.
Protzmann reflects upon her experience as a young female maintenance officer.
"For me it was just trying to understand an environment where there weren't women in leadership roles," she said. "With that I learned early on the strength of our enlisted force as they showed me the ropes."
Protzmann expressed her deep appreciation for the enlisted force. She learned how to be an advocate and the voice for the men and women of the maintenance squadron who, in those days, were underappreciated as a community that worked hard for the mission.
After serving as a maintenance officer at Scott AFB and K.I. Sawyer AFB, Protzmann was given the opportunity to be stationed overseas. Simultaneously, she made the change from a maintenance officer to wings plans officer with the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, RAF Bentwaters, England.
The 81st TFW was the largest tactical fight wing in the Air Force and as the wings plans officer Protzmann was responsible for deployment and war reserve materials. The 81st TFW had two main operating bases and four forward operating bases with 120 aircraft split between them.
"It was an enormous and tough assignment, we were always on the go," said Protzmann. "I learned a lot of logistics and it helped to broaden and shape focus on how a wing operates and what makes it successful."
After the birth of her son, Protzmann chose to leave active duty and join the New Hampshire Air National Guard, where she served as a services officer. Her husband, Jim, was an active duty bomber pilot at a time when senior officers moved around every year. As a family they knew it would be difficult to find joint spouse assignments for a junior and senior officer. Jim ultimately made the decision to retire and Protzmann, a captain at the time, separated from active duty.
"Joining the guard allowed me to stay connected with the military but allowed time with my son as well," said Protzmann.
Protzmann continued on the topic of balance between work and family.
"We are never in balance, to our family, our employer and our commitment to the guard, there's always one that suffers," said Protzmann. "Our challenge is to ensure it's not always the same entity that's unequal. It's the support of our employer and families that ensures our success."
After spending three years as a services officer, Protzmann became the fulltime logistics officer from 1987-1988 and then to the chief personnel officer from 1988-1992.
"Having a broad experience base helps us to be credible as officers. I understood better how things work together," said Protzmann.
With her diverse background Protzmann became the Mission Support Group (MSG) Commander from 1992-2001.
"MSG is the mirror of the base; it touches every operation beyond maintenance and flying and as a non-rated officer, MSG gave me experience in most other areas of the base," she said.
Protzmann built up her skills and knowledge of her people with, again, the guidance of her enlisted force which prepared her for becoming the first non-rated vice wing commander in 2001. Protzmann was able to once again be an advocate for the people. She was able to offer diverse thinking as she helped to integrate flying and support, a key piece in a total integrated force.
"I look back to three people that helped shape the officer I am as I was advocating for my people: Chief Jackie Collerette, Chief Jamie Lawrence, and Chief Dave Obertanec," she said. "They were always willing to have an honest dialogue and tell me what was needed with honest feedback."
During the 10 years Protzmann was vice wing commander (2001-2011) she experienced and participated in an immense amount of change. She was the acting wing commander during the months following 9-11 when Col. Richard Martell (retired), wing commander at that time, was deployed to Spain. Protzmann was also part of the transition from a strategic reserve to the operational reserve we are today.
"I've watched us grow as a co-located unit, to a standalone unit, to a north eastern tanker task force, to a unit that's contingency and home station tasked, to total force integrated unit," she said. "We continuously have our eye on the mission for the future and we continue to be sure we have the best people."
With her knowledge, skills, experiences and support, Protzmann went on in 2011 to become the ATAG where she is responsible to the adjutant general for the combat and operational readiness of the NHANG and the ability of the 157th Air Refueling Wing to perform its federal and state mission.
"I have been privileged and honored to have had the opportunities I have and to be a part of what we are and will become as an ANG unit," said Protzmann.
Protzmann discussed her deep rooted passion and admiration for the people of the 157 ARW and credits them as well as the previous leaders for being selected as the home for the KC-46A Pegasus.
"We've always been extremely well lead by visionaries who understood we must always be in the game," she said. "We established ourselves as building the Air National Guard's most respected unit, and that has served us well."
In closing as Protzmann reflects upon 36 years of military service she expresses how blessed and grateful she is for her experiences and only hopes that she can be an example for others to say, "There isn't a path that I can't pursue."
"The military was my calling and it has been my honor to serve," said Protzmann. "I hope along the way my small marks have helped to pave the way for the reputation and the people of the NHANG. I thank the men and women for all their support to me and the mission."