FORT MEADE, Md. — A groundbreaker, a trailblazer, a female first in many aspects of the Army, a life mentor, a fighter for the underdog and a great inspiration. These are a few of the titles leaders used to describe Chief Warrant Officer 5 Mary A. Hostetler during her retirement ceremony after a 40-year career in the U.S. Army. The ceremony took place at the Women’s Military History Museum in Arlington, Virginia, Jan. 7.
The museum walls were adorned with images depicting milestones of women throughout the military’s history. Considering Hostetler’s military career, this was the perfect location to honor her 40-year-tenure in the Army. According to her, it all started because a skinny little farm girl wanted to be a police officer.
Not only would Hostetler fulfill her dream of becoming a police officer, but perhaps her most monumental career milestone was when she served as the team officer in charge of the executive protective detail for former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. She was recognized for completing more than 50 successful protective missions for Panetta within one year in the U.S.
The daunting reality of providing nearly one protective mission a week for the secretary of defense was a long way away for the daughter of an Amish father and Irish mother.
Hostetler grew up on a farm six miles from Wooster, Ohio. The first time she applied to be a police officer she was disqualified. Standing 5 feet 7 inches, she wasn’t tall enough to meet the female height standards, which disqualified most women because of their average height of 5 feet 5 inches. She then enlisted into the Army Reserve while the country was winding down from the Vietnam War in 1976 – she was 19 years old. Hostetler was the first military police woman to join the 447th Military Police Company in Wooster, Ohio.
“I understand why women want the same opportunities, especially if they have the interest and ability” said Hostetler. “At that time period in my life, the most frustrating thing for me was when my neighbor boy got to play little league baseball, and I could only be the bat girl, even though I played better than he did.”
Hostetler had interest and ability. She wanted to be a part of something bigger.
When Hostetler was sent to basic training, the Army was doing a study on women in the army, which required females to meet the same standards as the males. Although physical fitness standards aren’t the same for males and females today, Hostetler was one of two females in her company who exceeded the identical physical requirements and was right out of basic training.
“When Mary showed up to our unit in Wooster, I knew she was a new breed of Soldier,” said retired Lt. Col. Greg Long, the former commander of the 447th MP Co. who also swore Hostetler into the Army. “From being promoted in basic to volunteering for everything she could, I knew she was blazing the trail for other women and that she truly exemplified: ‘Be all you can be.’”
Hostetler didn’t know that she would make the Army a career when she first enlisted, but during her 40 years in the Army, she has taken advantage of opportunities she never imagined were possible.
She served a three-year tour on active duty as an MP. After that, she came back into the Army Reserve and later went to Warrant Officer Candidate School in 1993, where she graduated with recognition for being the most physically fit among her peers. Hostetler didn’t stop there. She graduated from Warrant Officer Basic Course as an Army Supervisory Criminal Investigator, Special Agent. In 2003, she was mobilized to Iraq.
This was the first time Hostetler deployed. She was 46 years old and already served for 26 years. However, age didn’t hinder her performance. In fact, her experience augmented it. During her time in country, she served on a team that provided security to L. Paul Bremer, the Presidential Envoy to Iraq. This made her the first female criminal investigations special agent to provide protective services in a combat zone.
She would continue to provide protective services when she was selected to serve as the team leader for Panetta’s protective team. While working for Panetta, she developed emergency protocols specific for the Secretary of Defense, involving 12 different local law enforcement agencies.
A year later, Hostetler was promoted to Chief Warrant Officer 5, of which there are only 116 in the Army Reserve. Having that kind of rank and responsibility in the Army led Hostetler to the position in which she retired from.
“When I was looking for a command chief, I came across Chief Hostetler’s resume and I was blown away,” said retired Maj. Gen. Sanford Holman. “It was like reading 10 different resumes at once, because she had so much experience.”
Although Hostetler had the experience, she was still nervous going into the job because she thought she wasn’t ready, but praises the Army for giving her the chance to grow.
“One of the beauties about the Army is that we are all looked at for our potential,” said Hostetler. “Once we’ve done it and it’s over that’s just it. Now that I’m retired, I am ready to be a command chief, and I’d be a damn good one.”
She says that her career has been about mission readiness and getting Soldiers the skills they need to do the job. During her time at the 200th, the Army was experiencing a large demand for criminal investigators, due to the lack of available seats for training the agents, usually about 6 to 8 seats per year. Hostetler spent much of her time with 200th fighting for funding and available slots for warrant officers to receive the skills they need in order to meet the Army’s demand. During her last two years, 35 Army Reserve warrant officers completed the training.
Hostetler has been a fighter for the underdog and says it is because of the people who believed in her and who wanted to prepare her to take their job one day.
“I know that we’re always talking about retirement,” said Hostetler. “Then, one day, it gets here, and I’m okay with that. But I will say, the best thing I have ever done is wear the Army uniform.”