Working as a lifeguard at Centennial Beach was more than just a fun summer job for Maj. Mike Hoffman.
Being a lifeguard taught Hoffman how to work with others as part of a team—a skill that is now invaluable to him as on officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“It may sound funny to say,” Hoffman said, “but you have a team of lifeguards and you start to learn to work as a team and to work with different people and people who may have different backgrounds.”
Growing up in Naperville, he learned lessons in school, at work and from his family and was able to translate those experiences into successful service to his country.
Recently, Hoffman, 34, earned his second Bronze Star Award for a project he participated in while in Afghanistan. Last year, his team helped improve safety for troops who travel a main supply route. Convoys had a hard time getting through because of the Taliban presence. The main threat to soldiers travelling along the route came from improvised explosive devices and complex attacks from fighters in the area, he said.
Hoffman credits his time in Naperville for preparing him for his worldwide travels and service.
“The school systems in Naperville really give you a good education and a good knowledge of the world and world history, and that education forms the core that allows you to properly process different experiences as you get older,” he said. “Some of it comes from college and military service, but it starts in elementary and secondary education. The education and teachers I had at Naperville North really set the stage for what I’ve had to deal with growing up and in the military.”
After graduating from , Hoffman went to Tulane University where he studied political science. He became a commissioned officer after he completed his studies, he said.
He knew for a while that he wanted to join the military, but wasn’t sure about which branch. He said he eventually chose the Marines because he was impressed with the professionalism he saw.
Military service was a tradition in his family, with his grandfather having served in World War II and his father in Vietnam.
“I knew I wanted to do something to pay back America,” he said during a phone interview from his home in Virginia Beach, VA.
Since joining the Marines, he has been stationed all over the world, including Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is now home living in Virginia with his wife, Natalie, and their two boys, Matthew, 3, and William, 1 ½ years old. He said he expects to be in the U.S. for the next few years, but he still travels internationally for his job.
“I think that coming home is always something people look forward to, probably from the day you get there,” he said. “Going home on a couple different levels: coming home to America—as many times as I’ve done it, (there's) something special about coming home to America—and then coming home to your family. I have a wife and two small sons, so I am always excited to come home.”
While he is happy to be home with his family, he said there is always work to be done, and in conflicts like those in Afghanistan or Iraq, the mission is never over.
His parents, Michael and Gail Hoffman, still live in Naperville and make trips out to visit him, Hoffman said.
“I still call Naperville home and still like to come back,” he said.
All of the knowledge Hoffman gleaned growing up in Naperville gave him the base to learn to handle adversity in any environment. He said in his experience, some places have been pretty austere. But, he gives the most credit to his parents for helping shape him into the man he is today.
“The final piece and most important is the solid moral foundation that my parents instilled in me, beyond anything else,” he said “That moral foundation pushes you to make the right choices in often ambiguous circumstances.”