11:53 AM

Overcoming Challenges: Wash. Wing's Hoffer Serves Despite Disabilities

Civil Air Patrol recognizes National Disability Employment Awareness Month with a profile of Maj. Tom Hoffer, who has overcome his physical challenges to rise through the ranks as a member of the Washington Wing's South Sound Composite Squadron and serves as the wing's diversity officer.

Loretta Fulton
Contributing Writer

The first time Tom Hoffer saw a group of Civil Air Patrol cadets, he was 5 years old and fascinated by the grand time the young cadets were having as they fired off their homemade rockets during a competition at Naval Air Station New York in Brooklyn.

That was in 1968, when Hoffer’s father, a career naval officer, was stationed in Brooklyn. The sight of the cadets having so much fun from something they created made a lasting impression on the young boy. It would take 42 years, but he finally realized his dream of becoming a member of CAP in 2010.

That kind of perseverance is remarkable, but Hoffer, 57, learned early in life that perseverance would be required for him to make his way in the world. He was born missing three limbs — both arms above the elbows and his left leg at the hip – and with other disabilities.

He was fitted with his first prostheses at age 2 so he could become accustomed to them. Most of the time, Hoffer was the only kid in school with a visible disability, which taught him an important life lesson.

“Most barriers are attitudinal,” he said. “Physical barriers can usually be corrected or a work-around developed.”

That realization has served him well, and today Hoffer, who lives in Olympia, Washington, shares that philosophy as the Washington Wing’s diversity officer. He also is aircrew-certified in CAP. Professionally, Hoffer is the Equal Employment Opportunity adviser for the U.S. Army’s Regional Health Command-Pacific.

Becoming involved with CAP is something Hoffer started dreaming of the day he first watched a bunch of cadets firing their homemade rockets. His dad’s naval career meant that the family moved a lot, including bases in Maine and California. Along the way, Hoffer gained more exposure to Civil Air Patrol. He still has a copy of C.B. Colby’s “This Is Your Civil Air Patrol,” first published in 1958.

Lt. Col. Elizabeth A. Sydow, CAP’s national diversity officer, said Hoffer’s experiences, including overcoming the challenges of his disability, bring a unique perspective to CAP and “enrich the organization and those he volunteers with.”

People who have mentored and supported Hoffer have looked beyond the physical differences and limitations and focused on results, Sydow said.

Hoffer said he has received support “up and down the chain of command” since joining the Washington Wing’s South Sound Composite Squadron. A former wing commander took Hoffer up for a training flight. Support also has come from his peers.

“I could not have accomplished what I did without the support and team spirit of fellow CAP battle buddies,” Hoffer said.

CAP has been diverse from its beginnings nearly eight decades ago, in keeping with its core values of integrity, volunteer service, excellence and respect, Sydow said. Decision-making and operational capabilities are enhanced by diversity CAP’s members, she said.

“Diversity makes our organization stronger and contributes to excellence, Sydow said.

Hoffer is impressed by CAP’s efforts to be inclusive. In August, he watched a session on diversity presented as part of the virtual 2020 National Conference and was pleased to see how diverse the membership already is.

“I think diversity makes a country stronger, not weaker,” Hoffer said.

Hoffer has achieved much in CAP, as well as in his professional life. In 2016, he was promoted to the grade of major and has received numerous CAP awards. He was honored in 2018 as one of 10 international winners of the Henry Viscardi Achievement Awards.

Despite all that he has accomplished, Hoffer still has his eye on one more CAP goal — attaining mission observer status.

“While I wear my hard-earned aircrew wings with pride,” he said, “I still keep a pair of observer wings in constant view on my computer desk — a reminder of accomplishments still to be achieved.”