Talk Story: Bruce Hay

Capt. Bruce Hay stepped into his position as leader of the Pacific Missile Range Facility in the summer of 2013 and now, three years later, he’s handing over the reins and continuing his journey.

The Hyde Park, New York, native was officially designated a naval flight officer in March 1993, and throughout his career, he’s been awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal and Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals — both with combat distinguishing device as well as other unit campaign awards.

He’s set to retire in November, but Hay said he’s accumulated enough leave to be out the door with an Aug, 12 ceremony. Hay sat down with The Garden Island to look back over his career and how he ended up in charge of Kauai’s facility.

When you started your military career, what was your vision and what were your expectations?

Some people plan out their lives. I had rough ideas and guiding principles but it’s been fun and rewarding, we’d stuck with it. And when I say we, I mean to include my wife (Susi). I met her in the eighth-grade, dated through school, and married our junior year of college. We’ve been doing this together.

Back when I was in school, I originally wanted to be a doctor, but I learned I’m not fond of my own blood, or of seeing others’ blood. I was offered an opportunity to go to Boys State and that got me inundated with military academy stuff, and then “Top Gun” came out and that really piqued my interest. My dad was blue collar most of my life and didn’t have what it took to send me to school, so I saw an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Next thing I knew I was accepted into the Navy. But it wasn’t some grand vision — I knew I wanted to fly planes and that’s how that played out.

What are some highlights that stand out as you look back over your career?

It’s difficult to try and sum up a career in two or three highlights. Once I was on a training flight with one of my friends and we were flying low altitude over central Idaho in the winter. We flew into a whiteout and I was thinking this was probably it. I remember this was the first time I was afraid in the airplane. Basically, we went upside-down going over the ridgeline and it was snowy. We nearly stalled the airplane while trying to get composure and we flew around for 45 minutes to calm ourselves before we landed in Mountain Home Air Force Base.

The other memory that I have is after being on deployment 10 years later on the USS Abraham Lincoln supporting Iraqi freedom. We were the first element to return from the whole conflict and we’d been deployed for a record (amount of time). We taxied up to the base and it looked like the entire state of Washington had exploded on the base. To see that many people there to support you was humbling, especially since you’re just doing your job.

The other two joint memories are taking command of my squadron and taking command of this facility.

What were your goals going into command at PMRF and what’s the biggest impact you’ve had on the facility?

Opening ourselves for scrutiny is something that I hope we’re remembered for. I think it was the right thing to do and everyone here supported me; I know it resonated with the workforce. We’re reaching people that don’t necessarily have an opportunity to get onto the base. We’re public servants and stewards of taxpayers’ money and it’s important for people to understand what’s going on here. For the maximum extent we can we’ve been open, especially with the amount of events we’ve done here and the outreach we’ve done.

What impacts has the facility had on you?

What stood out to me as I come out here is that I was drawing a team that’s been together for decades; that’s unusual. In the military command, people rotate every three years ago,; people have been here for decades and I had to be accepted. People didn’t know me from anyone on the street and the outpouring of support was humbling. You want to do your best to earn what you’ve already been given. In that regard and that was pretty powerful.

I’m a military officer and managing a largely civilian workforce, especially building a case for change and building people’s trust when knowing people can outweigh you — that’s shaped me as a leader. There are times to be directive and unilateral, but there’s a need for collaboration and input and that’s been the biggest impact for me.

So, are you ready to turn over command?

My great regret is that eventually I have to leave. I ran all the way through the tape and I’m tired at the end but that means I gave it my all. If you do it right, you’re exhausted at the end. I’ll be sad to let it go, but I gave it my all. The important thing is the ohana thing here continues to thrive. It’s about the team. That’s the takeaway that I want people to know.

There’s a reason you’re only in command for a relatively short period of time; before you get to the point of diminishing return, you turn that over to someone else.

I spent last week with the man that will be taking over, Vincent Johnson, a Navy captain. He has young children as well — two boys, the youngest being 1 year old, and they’re coming from Rhode Island. So there will be another old guy in the front office with young kids. He is sharp he’s affable, likable and relatable, and excited to come out here. I keep telling everyone a complete upgrade, and we’ll do an extended turnover during exercise this summer so he’ll be set up for success.

What’s next for you, Captain?

We’d really like to stay here, especially for our daughter, Sheridan. She’s 20 months old now, just starting to walk. I’m convinced the reason Sheridan entered our lives was our time on Kauai. My wife and I knew each other for a long time and we didn’t have kids. We came out here and people are very focused on family and a chance comment my wife had made led to us being at the birth of Sheridan and adopting her.

That wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been here and if I remember nothing else in my old age about Kauai, I’ll remember we were able to adopt Sheridan because of our time here. I want her to grow up with that aloha in her life.

I spent most of my adult life north of Seattle, but it’s more fun outside when it’s 80 and dry than it is with 40 and raining. I hope to pick up paddle boarding, but I haven’t had the time to do due diligence yet. I’ve been slowly doing hikes that have been on my so-called bucket list. It helps that my daughter is mobile now.

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