For those who serve the public, it’s not uncommon for careers to come full circle.
For Terry Hiett, U.S. Army Financial Management Command Military Pay Operations Field Services Division financial management analyst, his 37-years of military and civil service are a string of concentric circles.
Hiett’s first circle started with his adoptive parents – his father was a certified public accountant and his mother was a financial bookkeeper for several companies.
While Hiett didn’t know for many years that his father served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a finance Soldier prior to his adoption, he said he felt that same calling to serve his nation after spending his first two years of high school in a military boarding school.
“I fell in love with discipline and decided that’s what I wanted to be for my adult life,” he recalled. “I graduated March 7 and joined March 11.”
With ASVAB scores all above 120, Hiett could have served in any career field, but his recruiter offered him the quickest route as an infantry mortarman, and he joined, circling back to the military life he said he loved.
After four years in the infantry and achieving the rank of sergeant, Hiett said he wanted to do something less taxing on his body.
“I was heavy mortars, operating the ‘four deuce,’ 107 mm mortar, and in those four years I broke five bones,” he recalled. “I realized if I did 16 years more of that I wouldn’t have any bones left.”
Finance was actually Hiett’s fifth choice because he said he really want to be a linguist. Unfortunately, he scored just a few points below the threshold on the admissions test and didn’t qualify to cross train into his other three options as a sergeant.
So, in 1979, Hiett headed to the U.S. Army Financial Management School at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, his second circle, joining the career field of his father, and starting his circle in Indianapolis.
After graduation, Hiett’s first assignment as part of the Finance Corps was with the 215th Finance Company at Fort Benning, Georgia.
“It just so happened that was when the army decided the Finance Corps needed to learn to operate in the field,” he said. “We had no field gear, no vehicles assigned, and no concept of all the equipment needed.”
In those days, he recalled, they needed to take all their paper records to the field with them. So, they borrowed every vehicle and driver they could get their hands on so they could transport more than 18,000 records using 15 M35 “Deuce-and-a-Half” trucks.
“Circling back to my last career, they had the three of us ex-infantry Soldiers in the finance company acting as aggressors for our first outing,” said Hiett. “They had a lot of work to do, but that was a lot of fun.”
And, hard work is what Hiett did for the rest of his military career before retiring in 1995. His last assignment was as an advanced individual training instructor at the Financial Management School, completing his first circle in Indianapolis.
After retirement, Hiett said he was offered an opportunity to start a gaming store back in South Carolina.
“As a kid, we used to have family board game nights,” he said, reflecting on where his gaming passion began. “We’d play Monopoly or Risk every Sunday.”
Later in life, Hiett said he realized those two games of finance and military strategy, respectively, mirrored his eventual military career – two more circles.
“I started with war games in 1971 and transferred to tabletop roll-playing games in 1975, the year I joined the military,” he added.
Hiett ran the gaming store for four years and delivered newspapers for another six, all while trying to get hired on with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, which was newly formed in Indianapolis when he retired.
“I loved being a military pay guy and taking care of Soldiers in a way I didn’t appreciate or fully understand when I was an infantryman,” he recalled. “I tried to get on with USAFMCOM tiger teams, which were the inspection teams that trained local finance offices, similar to the OST today, but there was a hiring freeze.”
Still, Hiett persisted, and in 2005, he was hired as a civil servant at Fort Gordon, Georgia, working military pay processing in DFAS’ Defense Military Pay Office.
“Right away, I discovered I had not lost any of my knowledge,” he said. “Some of the programming changed in those 10 years, but the reports and associated actions had not.”
After three years at Fort Gordon, Hiett was promoted to be the DMPO supervisor supporting the DFAS Indianapolis forward support team at the U.S. Army Garrison Presidio at Monterey, California.
There, he supported the pay activities for all the Soldiers assigned to the Defense Language Institute, where linguists are trained – another circle in the career of Hiett, who wanted to go to DLI 26 years earlier to become an Army linguist.
Hiett said he loved his time at DLI, but couldn’t pass up an opportunity and promotion to deputy director of DMPO Indianapolis.
“It was a culmination of my career, coming back to Indy, where the policy is made and where the inspections were coming from, to ensure everything went by the book,” he said, recalling his love for discipline.
In 2015, Hiett transferred to the DFAS’ Field Services Division as a site captain, where he served as a liaison between DFAS and the DMPOs at Forts Polk, Sill and Irwin.
Four years later, he transferred with the rest of the DMPOs and FSD to USAFMCOM, where he now conducts military pay data gathering and metric reporting.
Hiett said after 37 years he’s grateful for the opportunity to serve and complete his final circle here in Indianapolis as he plans to retire later this summer.
“It’s been a rewarding career, and teaching the next generation of financial management professionals kept me motivated,” he said. “I’ve worked in five pay systems and served and mentored Soldiers around the globe, some of whom serve in leadership positions today.”
When asked for any words of wisdom he could pass onto the next generation of civil servants, Hiett provided two thoughts.
“Learn the ‘why’ of what you do before the how,” he said. “If you know the why, you can always do the how.
“And, you never have a second chance to make a good first impression,” he added. “That’s where you begin to earn their trust.”
Following his upcoming retirement, Hiett will once again circle back to another passion of his – tabletop role-play gaming.
“Several local gaming stores have asked me to run games for them, and I want to get re-involved with cake baking and decorating for friends and family,” said the father of two and step-father of one. “I don’t charge for it; I just do it because I enjoy it.”
(Editor’s note: This is the first story in a series focusing on the careers of USAFMCOM civil servants during Public Service Recognition Week, which is May 1-7, 2022.)