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Former Army attack helicopter pilot taps military expertise to master logistics

TOTE Maritime Director Hartleigh Caine found new niche serving Alaska

By Hilary Reeves

Caine smiles and leans on a rail in a shipping yard wearing a business suit.After graduating from the military’s West Point in 2000, Hartleigh Caine took a long, hard look at her options.

“I wanted to go somewhere women were encouraged to reach their highest level of potential. Aviation was a branch (of the U.S. Army) where women could be in combat-arms, where they could get the leadership experience for a fulfilling career.”

And so Caine enrolled in flight school and began her career flying attack helicopters in combat.

“As a woman aviator, I had great leaders. Sometimes ground commanders would complain when they realized there was going to be a woman on their mission. But when you’re getting shot at, you don’t care who’s coming for you. They’d change their tune when they saw you in the Mess Hall after (a mission). They’d say, ‘You’re Longbow 16? You just saved my ass.’”

West Point, war, and a desire for community

Born in the small town of Forks on Washington State’s rural Olympic Peninsula, Caine was named after her family’s land: “hart,” an elk or deer, and “leigh,” a meadow. In grade school, her family left Forks and headed east toward Seattle, where she attended high school.

“I got really interested in going to a military academy,” said Caine, eventually selecting West Point, the U.S. Military Academy in New York. “I saw a picture in the Guidance Office when I was still in high school of four cadets wearing uniforms on a grassy field, parading with the national colors.”

Her parents both served in the Kennedy-era Peace Corps in Africa. Her sister later followed in their footsteps.

“Their perception was that they wanted to serve, but they didn’t want to serve in Vietnam. When I talked about going to the military academy, they were supportive. A lot of people don’t like the idea of the service academies, they find them too conforming, but I loved it from day one. There are tons of opportunities.”

Young Caine wearing a pilot's outfit and helmet sits in an Apache cockpit, a posted date shows, "10/07/2006."
Caine in an Apache in 2006

Upon graduation, she was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, joined its aviation branch, and began flight school, training to fly AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters.

“When I was at West Point, we had a peacetime army. When I was in flight school, I remember being on the airfield and listening to the radio when all the Apaches were turned around and grounded on 9/11. At Fort Hood, where I was stationed, everyone started deploying. I left for Iraq in 2003, and was there for the first year of the invasion.”

Caine was soon promoted to attack helicopter company commander. Her assigned combat missions ranged from reconnaissance – confirming intelligence and surveilling enemies – to deliberate and hasty attacks.

“With a deliberate attack, you have intelligence, satellite imagery. You’re usually trying to strike, destroying a resource or an asset. Hasty attacks occur during recon when you find people doing things they shouldn’t be doing. It can be difficult to know your enemies. There’s no clear line that divides ‘friend’ and ‘foe’ in modern wartime.”

After two tours in Iraq, Caine returned stateside as an executive officer and enrolled in Columbia Business School. She earned a graduate degree in 2009, and decided to return to West Point to teach business and economics.

In 2012, Caine returned to her home state, stationed at Joint Base Lewis McChord near Tacoma, Wash. She served as Lead Aviation Planner and Operations Officer at the base.

“I was at JBLM when I decided that I really wanted to settle down and become part of one community,” said Caine, who departed from the military in 2013.

Caine’s husband, also in the Army, now works as a consultant.

“We don’t miss it,” she said. “We miss the people and the camaraderie, but it’s nice to be stable and create a community.”

Caine started looking for opportunities to join  the private sector.

“I was looking for operational roles with companies where I felt the culture had a strong focus on service and duty,” she said. “A friend told me about this transportation company (TOTE Maritime Alaska). I took off my (military) uniform on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, and I started at (TOTE Maritime Alaska) on Monday, November 4.  There was a really easy transition.”

Remaining military minded

Caine said she quickly recognized the similarities and differences between military and civilian work.

“It wasn’t an issue that I came from the public sector to the private sector,” she said. “Transportation is similar to the military in that you come to work, and everyone has a mission, a purpose. You’re trying to make an operation come together through timing, people, resources, and priorities. I would say the biggest difference is that at (TOTE Maritime Alaska), we have extremely strong retention. We’re able to really drill into a high degree of efficiency. The military spends a lot more time training. There’s such a high turnover.”

Caine joined TOTE Maritime Alaska as a senior operations manager focused on land-side operations in the Lower 48, including equipment, maintenance, transportation, terminals, and, perhaps most important, how land-side and vessel operations interface to ensure freight delivery to Alaska.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as ‘what are all the inputs that result in an accurate invoice’” she said. “It can also be pretty complex. It’s about how to work with the other groups in the company to ensure that we’re delivering a consistent, quality product.”

Caine views her transition to civilian life as particularly smooth.

“The only thing that remains now is to translate some colloquiums from military-jargon to transportation,” she said. “I delight every time I learn a new transportation phrase. Do you know what a ‘piggy-packer’ is? They used to call railroad cars ‘pigs,’ and a piggy-packer is the machine used to load the train cars. ‘Bobtailing’ is moving a tractor without its trailer.”

Caine also often finds herself in the role of mentor and, if the Veteran is a good fit for the company, recruiter.

“I did my homework on (TOTE Maritime Alaska). I’ve really been rewarded in that the values you perceive hold true, and the company really does invest in their people and in helping them reach their potential. You really have the space and confidence of the leadership to make decisions and go after opportunities to make improvements. People around here are very, very comfortable with continuous improvement.”

For now, Caine is enjoying civilian life with her husband and children.

“It’s nice to know that in a given year, you’re going to be home for birthdays and soccer games, that you’re going to see Halloween, Christmas, Easter,” she said. “Several colleagues and I did a local Gig Harbor race to raise money for our veterans coming home with PTSD injuries.”

She still remembers the poster she saw the day she first considered military service.

“There was something in the way they looked, the pride they had in what they were doing, the waving flag. The takeaway was that you should be doing something bigger than yourself. TOTE Maritime Alaska is unique in that there’s a culture similar to what first attracted me to the military. We’re duty-minded. We work to serve the greater good. When someone asks me what I do, I say, ‘I serve Alaska.’ If something’s going wrong, all of a sudden, it’s a threat to serving Alaska. People at TOTE Maritime naturally draw that parallel.”