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Face of Defense: Basic Training Flightmates Serve Together 21 Years Later

AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar, Jan. 9, 2018 — It all started in 1996. One kid from Prattville, Alabama, and another from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, took a bus to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. They were both a little scared and excited to become the Air Force’s newest airmen.

Though they spent six weeks together in the same flight at basic military training, their Air Force journeys separated them by thousands of miles and trips around the world after graduation.

Twenty-one years later, the Air Force brought Air Force Maj. Nick Hardeman, the distribution flight commander for the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, and Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Nathan McCoy, the chief enlisted manager, together again here.

Hardeman said he vividly remembers sitting in the day room on their first day of BMT with his flightmates as the military training instructors asked for volunteers for dorm chief and element leaders. Most trainees were too scared to speak up at first as they were told “Don’t volunteer for anything” before leaving for BMT.

“What I remember about Nate is that he was the first one — raised his hand, stood proud, stood tall and said he was the team captain for his basketball team,” Hardeman said. “Since Day One, he’s always been the one to stand up and take the lead.”

Bad News Bears

Their flight was affectionately called the Bad News Bears, and the two agreed they were out of the running of being honor flight graduates within the first week.

“The big reason I joined the Air Force was I didn’t have a whole lot of other options, and I thought, ‘Hey this might be cool,’” Hardman said. “I was that kind of kid, … still here after this many years later.”

Both of them thought they would get out of the military after their initial enlistments, but their Air Force careers turned into adventures that developed them personally and professionally.

“The camaraderie, the people you meet in certain places, you don’t get this in the civilian world. It’s all corporate, it’s all about the mighty dollar,” Hardeman added. “But in the military, it’s not about that. It’s about relationships.”

McCoy arrived here in June and Hardeman arrived a month later. However, it took a little time for the two prior flightmates to realize their common history.

During McCoy’s recent promotion ceremony, Air Force Lt. Col. Kellie Courtland, commander of the 379th ELRS, described the new chief’s military career and mentioned him showing up to BMT in July 1996.

Photographic Memory

At that moment, Hardeman flashed back to that summer of ’96 and realized he knew McCoy from basic training. After the ceremony, he rushed back to his room and pulled up his BMT flight photo, confirming it was him.

“So he sent me the basic training photo, and he had himself and me circled,” McCoy said.

McCoy said he felt proud to have known Hardeman, both back in basic and now that he is a commander.

As commander, Hardeman has overseen many projects, including a new customs and immigration terminal here. He also directs vehicle operations, the base’s bus routes, aircrews that need to get out to their planes, the traffic management office that manages inbound and outbound cargo and makes sure service members get transportation when being forward deployed to other bases around U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility.

“The way they have done business over there is through the roof,” McCoy said when talking about Hardeman’s flight. “You kind of fall back into ‘Wow, that’s a guy I started with 21 years ago.’”

As the chief enlisted manager, McCoy has to stay in tune with and support enlisted airmen. His job requires ensuring squadron members have everything they need, living quarters are in good condition and training deficiencies and morale issues are resolved. He pushes younger airmen to expand their professional development and take advantage of opportunities they have while deployed. He wants to pass on all of his knowledge to help mentor tomorrow’s airmen.

“I take enjoyment in the fact that I can give back. I can ensure that the next airman McCoy is 10 times better than me. We have some bright kids in this Air Force now,” he said.

“The person you are seeing right now was the same person that I saw in basic training,” Hardeman said. “The way he talks about pulling people together, being the cheerleader, he was that guy in our basic training flight. It’s no surprise that he’s a chief master sergeant.”