By Tech Sgt. Scott McNabb, 24th Air Force Public Affairs
/ Published July 19, 2011
LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Her mother forbade her from becoming a Marine ...
Unlike most Airmen, Master Sgt. Ireli "Eydee" Hinger, 33rd Network Warfare Squadron's Air Force Computer Emergency Response Team operations superintendent, has earned her eagle, globe and anchor because she deployed with the Corps in Fallujah and her troops made her an honorary Marine.
"As far back as I can remember in my career, I've always been told that I joined the wrong service," Hinger said. "I finally got to be a Marine for seven months when I was attached to their unit. Even though it was nice playing Marine for seven months, and I did what I could to be one of them, in the end, it was nice to come home."
Hinger is a different breed of Airman. Always has been according to those who know her.
The 19-year Airman with a fierce disposition led the way as one of the first cyber instructors at the 39th Information Operations Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla. She was a subject matter expert when the Air Force built its only network forensics laboratory and she redefines the term "hard charger" every day, according to her co-workers.
The same woman had a basketball scholarship to the University of California at Los Angeles out of high school, explored Europe as a young Airman and now calls herself a geek who codes and defeats computer viruses for fun, babies the heck out of her three children and runs on her treadmill at home until a bad day turns into a quiet, stress-free evening.
"I don't do very well when I'm bored, so I try to keep my mind engaged as much as possible," said the senior non-commissioned officer who enjoys most kinds of puzzles, reading technical manuals and reading other, no-brainer books in her free time. I do code viruses. Only because if I can code it, than the enemy can code it, so if I can find a fix for it, then I'll fix it.
Hinger spent her first three years in the Air Force stationed in Germany, but spent little time there since her job as an electronic security systems analyst sent her on temporary duty for 300 days during that time. She reenlisted because she loved every second of it.
"I was having so much fun in the Air Force my first four years, I didn't want the fun to stop," said Hinger. "I basically got to tour Europe as a teenager/young adult and there's not a chance that 99 percent of the kids I graduated high school with will ever see those places in their lifetimes."
She pulled a tour in South Korea and enjoyed that as well, she said. As much as she enjoyed her off time, being the best at her job has always been a source of passion for Hinger.
"Master sergeant Hinger has been a hard charger right out of the gate," said Rob Mastaler, 33rd NWS information technology specialist, who's worked with Hinger off and on for more than 18 years. "She was an Airman that the squadron could throw any task at, and it would be done above standards and before deadline. She has always been a mission-first type person that would stay until the mission was done. As an intelligence operator, she would always be on the top of any mission supervisors list to go on temporary duty because of her work ethic."
Mastaler said Hinger's infectious work ethic has even taught him a thing or two about how to be a better leader. Motivation of others being the biggest lesson he learned. He said Hinger will make chief master sergeant if she chooses to go that direction.
"Why? In a word ... drive," he said. "You would be hard pressed to find a finer role model for the new Airmen joining our Air Force today."
Tom Fujan, another early supervisor in her career, knew just how to challenge his star Airman and how to call her out when she was wrong. He gave her a pile of work to do. When the pile was gone, she could leave for the day. Each day, he would add more to the pile and Hinger would plow through it. Soon she stayed longer and longer and accurately finished a bevy of assignments.
"I just never noticed, I just thought, 'Ok, if I do my work and I do it right and he's good with it, then I can go out and enjoy myself,'" she recalled. "He had this incredible knack of keeping me focused and when I screwed up, he told me I screwed up. There's no sugarcoating, there was no fluff."
Sugar coating and/or fluff are Kryptonite to Hinger. She said she can't abide either.
"She's very knowledgeable in cyber defense (has been since before it was called cyber defense) and she's very knowledgeable in military protocol," said her long-time co-worker and friend Christi Ruiz, AFCERT Intrusion Prevention Flight deputy director. "She may come across as abrasive at times, but that's Eydee and we all love her for it. Over the past few years, I've seen her grow up from a normal young person who loved to have her fun, to a passionate, devoted wife to a lovable mother of three. She's been successful because she keeps her head in the air and her feet on the ground."
Another grounding person in Hinger's life is her husband Michael. Master Sgt. Michael Hinger is the 453rd Electronic Warfare Squadron acting first sergeant and a people person. When Hinger is truly stumped, she said she calls the man who knows her best.
"When I really just can't figure it out, I call my husband or walk into his office and say, 'Alright, look, I have this problem,' and normally he'll tell me to engage my people skills," she said laughing. "Being a superintendent, it's about paperwork and mission. Being a first sergeant - it's all about people. He's a very good first sergeant. I'm a very good superintendent. So, complete opposite personalities at work."
Hinger met her husband in 1996, but it was until 1998 that they became a couple. Things progressed quickly from there and they were married in December of the same year.
"She is my world, the love of my life, my partner in crime. The first time I saw her, I knew she was 'the one,'" her husband said. "She is a fellow SNCO, someone I know I can bounce ideas off of and know I am going to get good feedback from. She's great at sports, and a great teammate. She's my partner, and my love. She is the one I want to grow old with."
Michael Hinger said the qualities that set his wife apart from others as a senior non-commissioned officer are vast, but they include her ability to balance caring for her Airmen's health and well being, while holding them to the highest standards to ensure mission accomplishment.
"She helps them not just on duty, but in their personal lives," he said. "She is the hammer when needed, but also the shoulder to cry on."
Hinger said she and her husband bring opposite strengths to their home life in the same way they do at work, but the roles change.
"I have absolutely no disciplining bone in my body when it comes to my children," said Eydee Hinger. "I know it sounds out of character, but I am the pushover parent. My husband is the disciplinarian. I know it's so contradictory to my work personality, but it just is."
Hinger said she loves being a mother and wants her children to learn and grow and be strong just like every parent does. She also has years of being an instructor at the 39th IOS schoolhouse under her belt and Hinger said that experience helps at home and at work.
"Once you're a teacher, you're always a teacher," said Hinger. "What is my knowledge if I don't teach it to other people? Cyber is the last 15 years of my life. I've become truly passionate about it."
Hinger's passion for cyber is always right under her stern exterior. Her career thus far has been a source of great pride culminating in building the Air Force's first cyber forensics lab. But there are more things she's proud of.
"I'm proud of being out in front of all the other services and leading the way," Hinger said. "As long as you understand what you're looking at, I don't care if you're a master sergeant or an airman basic. As long as you put forth the effort to look at it and figure it out, that's what I craved. And growing my people to do that, even as a senior airman and a staff sergeant, that's what I'm proud of. All of the guys that I've trained over the years doing cyber and forensics, net defense and all of that stuff - we're building a brand new career field in the Air Force and I actually have my foot in it."
Master Sgt. Ireli "Eydee" Hinger may have the eagle, globe and anchor of an honorary Marine, but she will always be 100 percent Airman.
"The Air Force gave me exactly what I wanted," said Hinger, who has no plans of hanging it up any time soon. "They treated me like an intelligent adult, but they also gave me latitude to be able to broaden my horizons. I was able to stick my hands into a bunch of cookie jars and just kind of figure myself out."
Hinger has been submitted by Air Force Space Command as a nominee for Marie Claire's annual issue honoring young women across various industries who have made significant contributions in their fields.