Profile: Top Brass at New Jersey's Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst
Col. James C. Hodges leads the Department of Defense’s only tri-service joint base, which is, by some measures, the biggest in the country
Title: As head of an Air Force-led base that houses almost 90 military and civilian missions partners, Col. Hodges serves as commander of both the Joint Base and the 87th Air Base Wing.
How he got here: Raised in rural Arkansas, Hodges graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy with a degree in civil engineering and immediately applied his training to a career in the military. While serving in the Air Force, he earned a master’s degree in engineering and policy from Washington University in St. Louis and another in organizational management from George Washington University. He held a variety of engineering-related and leadership posts for the air force and NATO until 2011, when he took over as Commander of the 6th Mission Support Group at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
How his new position differs from prior post: Likening himself to the mayor of a city who’s responsible for managing various departments, agencies, and constituencies, Hodges says many of his duties as JB MDL commander will parallel those he performed at MacDill. However, there’s one big difference: “There are more people here. It is quite a bit bigger in terms of orders of magnitude.”
What he hopes to accomplish: “Not a lot of huge changes,” Hodges replies when asked about possible adjustments to base operations. He takes over a base that has distinguished itself with myriad awards and commendations and believes he can best serve the base by keeping it functioning as well as it already is.
That said, he plans to spend the next 60 to 90 days immersing himself in the 87th ABW, getting to know base personnel outside the unit and “making their issues and concerns my issues and concerns.” He’ll then host a strategic planning session with top brass to devise a two-to-five-year plan that prioritizes, in this order: ensuring the 87th ABW continues to excel; enabling the base community to reach its maximum potential by investing funds from his limited budget into quality-of-life and other initiatives; growing and mentoring the next generation of personnel with the understanding that the needs of servicemen and women sometimes differ from those of the civilians; building synergy with the ten Ocean and Burlington County communities that envelop the 42,000-acre base.
How he intends to bridge gaps between JB MDL and the community: As the second-largest employer in the state, JB MDL employs 44,000 people, 95 percent of whom live offbase. In the six weeks since he’s taken leadership, Hodges has met with school superintendents, attended chamber of commerce meetings in both adjacent counties, and inducted 94 honorary commanders from the community. Pointing to “areas of synergy” like housing, medical care, schools, and social programs, Hodges believes there’s a “very strong community support network around JB MDL.” He highlights his interest in working with community leaders and social workers to prevent a problem that’s currently plaguing the military: sexual assault. “It’s an issue in the Department of Defense that we’re addressing head-on, and so I’m looking for best practices in this area . . . Anything we can do to prevent sexual assault, we’ll fully implement,” he said.
How he spends his free time: Hodges is married with a 12-year-old son and 9-year-old twin boys. They’ve registered their boat in Bordentown, and they look forward to visiting the Shore as a family. As avid sports fans (particularly basketball), they plan on attending pro and college games in New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia. When asked if he expected to cheer for New York or Philly teams, he answered like a diplomat. “I’ll kind of sample all of them and kind of be a chameleon,” he said, before pledging his true allegiance to the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, St. Louis Cardinals and Denver Broncos. In quieter moments, the family enjoys eating at restaurants with “local flavor and flair”; he and his wife just celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary with a “great meal at a very nice local restaurant.”
What his professional colleagues may not know about him: Through international travel, with assignments in Afghanistan and Germany, Hodges has developed a fondness for foreign cultures and cuisine. Professing a deep appreciation for diversity in the workplace, he aims to foster an atmosphere that insists on tolerance and values all cultural perspectives.
What he likes about New Jersey: “I’m from a small town in Arkansas,” he said. “I thought coming to New Jersey, I’d be surrounded by the urban pace of New York and Philadelphia. But I was quite pleasantly surprised at the quantity and beauty of the farms and fields right around here. It’s quite nice to get out and see that while having all the expected conveniences here, too.”