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Valerie Hockgraver understands work-life balance. The assistant program manager for the Tomahawk Weapons System Test and Evaluation (APM (T&E)), Hockgraver juggles her professional duties with her role as mom to an active 7-year-old son. And last year, a health challenge further tipped the scales.

“She overcame a battle with ovarian cancer, without missing a beat on the job,” said Wes Brubacher, Hockgraver’s supervisor, the assistant program executive officer for the Weapons Test and Evaluation department. “Valerie leads by example, effectively managing a geographically dispersed, very diverse test team. She’s very professional and technically astute and she loves to learn, as evidenced by her three master’s degrees. Her courage in her battle with cancer last year was inspiring to me and all of those who know Valerie.”

For her professional achievements, the National Association of Professional Women honored Hockgraver with its 2013-2014 Woman of the Year Award in May 2013. The association provides a network for professional women to interact, exchange ideas, educate and empower, according to its website.

“Valerie is a role model for our program team and for all women,” said Capt. Joe Mauser, Tomahawk Weapons Systems Program Office (PMA-280) program manager. “Her leadership has been instrumental to reshaping the focus of our flight test program, which is a key element to taking Tactical Tomahawk to new heights.”

As the nation and DOD marks Women’s History Month in March, Hockgraver discussed her leadership role with the Tomahawk program and how she celebrates her survival.

Q: What led you to Pax River and this position with the Tomahawk program?

A: I started my military career with the Navy in 1981 and retired after 20 years. After a few years with NAVAIR, I became the Air Vehicle Stores Compatibility, Rotary Wing, Maritime, and UAV branch head (AIR As the Tomahawk Weapon System APM (T&E), I lead a team of more than 200 individuals in both flight test and developmental test that deal with the weapons support system. My immediate team is here at Pax River, but we have people all around the country.

Q: What do you love about your job?

A: I love the challenge and the technical aspects of my job. There is no greater satisfaction than achieving things that others doubted could be done. One of the fun things as a manager is helping someone grow professionally and technically to achieve better things. One of the biggest rushes is having team synergy, that big “aha moment” when everyone is working together — that’s the most awesome feeling in the world.

Q: What drives you? What makes you successful?

A: I’m tenacious and don’t like to be told I can’t accomplish or do something. I always try to capitalize on the opportunities I’m given and not be afraid to take risks. You won’t know until you try, and sometimes you will fail, but you have to be prepared to deal with that.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?

A: My goal is to achieve a Senior Executive Service position. I think it would be awesome to be the first female chief test engineer.

Q: What are you passionate about?

A: I am a cancer survivor. My experience taught me that life is short and you should go for what you want. My experience doesn’t define me; it’s not who I am. You have to live life. I’m passionate about that awareness, so I’m doing the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in May.
Position: Assistant program manager, Tomahawk Weapons System Test and Evaluation
Years with NAVAIR: 12 years of civilian service (April 2002); four years of military service (April 1997 to December 2001)
Hometown: Illinois
Education: Naval Postgraduate School, master’s degree in electrical engineering (1989); Naval War College, master’s in national security and strategic studies (1997); Naval Postgraduate School, master’s in system engineering management (2012).