REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- During 29 years of service, Pam Lang’s career path to the top administrative job at Redstone Arsenal took several unconventional turns.
Lang’s career as a Department of Defense civilian began as a Commissary store clerk and will end this month when she retires as the executive assistant to Army Materiel Command Commander Gen. Ed Daly. Along her career path, she had stints as a physical sciences technician, substitute teacher, natural resource planner and numerous secretarial positions, all while following her husband Glenn’s Air Force career at installations around the world.
“I’ve always loved to work and I’ve enjoyed all the different jobs so much. I think I’m a happier person when I have things to do with my mental energy,” Lang said. “I have a strong work ethic that came from my parents. A career as a secretary was the best choice because wherever we went, I could always get a job.
“The Air Force had a program for military spouses where they would help you continue your civilian career from one installation to the next, with you going to the top of the list for placement at your new installation. There were always secretarial positions available.”
Lang was 15 when she started dating her future husband in her hometown of Lenox, Massachusetts. The high school sweethearts married after a few years of college, and Lang continued to work part-time jobs and attend college, receiving her bachelor’s in Biology in 1978 from North Adams State College. But her husband’s job as a welder didn’t lend itself to dependable employment, and after he was laid off, he made a suggestion to his wife that led to a career path for both of them defined by travel, personal and professional growth, and family life.
“He had always wanted to pursue a career in the Air Force, but his mother was very opposed to it because of the Vietnam War,” Lang said. “But the war was over and he made a deal with me that we would try it for four years and see what it was like.”
Five years later, they were both convinced the Air Force had a lot to offer both their careers and their family. Lang’s husband transitioned his career as an aircraft loadmaster to become a logistics officer. As his job took off, so, too, did Lang’s, all the way from New Jersey and Texas to Germany and then to international spots in Italy and Belgium and various U.S. locales, including California, Washington, D.C., New Mexico and North Dakota.
“I worked in commissaries and for AAFES at first. But then I took a break to have our daughters and when I went back to work we were in Germany. I worked as a substitute teacher in DoD Dependent Schools because it worked better with our family schedule,” she said.
Once back in the states, her husband’s job took them to McClellan Air Force Base in California. Lang’s first administrative position was with the Office of the Adjutant General, California Army National Guard in Sacramento, and then as the secretary to the Failure Analysis Team.
“The variety of the work made the jobs fun. At McClellan, they discovered I had a Biology degree, so I was promoted to a Physical Sciences Technician and worked in the plating shop where I analyzed all the plating solutions,” Lang said.
Soon, the family was once again moving overseas, where Lang had a series of secretarial jobs, including support to the Director of Operations for the 6917th Electronic Security Group and the Staff Judge Advocate, both in San Vito Air Station, Italy, followed by the Director of Reserve Affairs for European Command at Patch Barracks, Germany.
A return to the U.S. led to Lang’s first job working with military communicators as the secretary to the editor of the Airpower Journal at Maxwell Air Force Base. The family’s next move in 1997 to Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, included a job for Lang as the secretary to the commander of the 27th Civil Engineer Squadron, where again the Air Force discovered her science background.
“I became a Natural Resource Planner, working on environmental impact analysis projects based on the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act,” she said. “We supported the Melrose Bombing Range, and that required numerous impact analysis projects. I also oversaw the budget for the environmental projects that were ongoing there.”
Her husband’s next career promotion then took them to Washington, D.C., where Lang continued her own career progression as the executive assistant to the deputy director of the Missile Defense Agency. There, the Langs would witness the Sept. 11 attacks firsthand.
“We were in offices in the Navy Annex, across from the Pentagon. I was there on 9/11 and our offices overlooked the side of the Pentagon that got hit. I didn’t see it happen, but I heard it,” Lang said.
“My husband was in the Pentagon at the National Military Command Center. But his office was on the other side of the Pentagon and I could see it was intact, so I knew he was okay. We were all scared and had to evacuate. We had to jump the fence into Arlington Cemetery.”
Eventually, employees returned to the building to get their personal belongings and Lang spent the afternoon giving rides home to fellow employees who were unable to take the Metro.
From there, Lang took on increasing roles of responsibility, serving as the secretary to the chief of the New Technology Branch for the Standard Systems Group, Gunter Annex, Alabama; executive assistant to the director of the Joint National Integration Center, Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado; administrative assistant for the U.S. Mission to NATO, Brussels, Belgium; secretary to the commander of the 5th Maintenance Squadron, Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota; and secretary to the commander of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Region 1, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
Her husband’s retirement as an Air Force colonel in 2011 and their oldest daughter’s family living in Decatur led them to Alabama and Redstone Arsenal, where Lang was hired as the travel coordinator for AMC’s deputy commanding general, then Lt. Gen. Dennis Via, and then was promoted to her current position, serving as an executive assistant to three commanding generals – first Via, then Gen. Gus Perna and now Daly.
Although Lang enjoyed the challenges of a professional career, she admits there were lots of challenges to balancing work and her roles as a wife to an Air Force officer and mother to two growing girls.
“As an employed spouse and working at a time when a lot of military spouses didn’t, I really had to make an effort between work and being there for my family. We lived and worked on a base, so we were safe and nearby, and I did like that our daughters learned to be resilient, independent and self-sufficient as they got older. The military lifestyle made us all more resilient.”
Even though she worked, Lang was still able to be her daughters’ Girl Scout leader and found ways to be involved with the spouses clubs at whatever base they were stationed.
Both of their daughters went to Auburn University, one becoming an English teacher and the other an associate director of Robotic Process Automation with a company in Chicago.
“My advice to any professional woman and to my daughters is to not limit yourself. Take the opportunities that come your way. It’s better to gain the experiences.”
In her 29-year career, Lang experienced a lot of changes both as a scientist, secretary and executive assistant.
“Secretaries aren’t what they used to be. They are more than answering phones and typing memos. Now, they are engaged in everything going on in an office,” Lang said. “They are more like managers of their boss’s time and the office itself.
“To be a good secretary, you have to have the finesse to handle lots of different situations. You have to be selfless and not take things personally. What I have loved so much about my work is that things are never the same and you get to work with great people year after year.”
In retirement, Lang plans to enjoy the historical neighborhood where she and her husband live, travel the country and its national parks in their motor home, and spend more time with their grandchildren. Her husband will also retire on Friday from his job as a division chief at the Security Assistance Command.
“I’ve loved all of my jobs for different reasons,” she said. “It’s all come full circle. If my husband had never said ‘Hey, what do you think of four years in the Air Force?’ I probably would still be in my hometown. Because of his career and the work I did, I got to do things I never could have imagined. Now, it’s time to try something different in my new hometown of Decatur.”