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Air Force pararescue expert can teach cadets a thing or two about stress

September 22, 2013 Updated: September 22, 2013 at 2:30 pm
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Stressed out by barking drill instructors? Exhausted by all that Air Force Academy homework? Worried about how you'll play in that next game?

Just swing by the office of Chief Master Sgt. Jeremy Hardy. He'll teach you about stress.

Just don't expect sympathy.

From his polished boots to his red pararescue beret, Hardy is at the academy to teach cadets about stress and how to lead through it.

"They have an identity crisis," Hardy said. "Are they college students or are they airmen?"

A 28-year Air Force veteran, Hardy is a member of the Air Force's small, little-known special operations community, commonly called PJs, for pararescue jumper. Think of Green Berets with blue uniforms.

In his old job, he jumped into enemy-held territory to recover downed pilots, including now-Lt. Gen. David Goldfein, who was shot down in Serbia and pulled out by a team that included Hardy. To get the pilot, they flew a helicopter into a firefight.

"Serbian special police and their dogs were on him right away," Hardy said.

Hardy has been in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Philippines and the Horn of Africa, serving alongside Green Berets and Navy SEALs. They're experts in rescue from firefights, collapsed buildings and river rapids.

Much of his work is classified. But he mentioned in passing that he was a part of the rescue of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch, one of the first and the most famous POW of the Iraq War.

Hardy has a chest full of ribbons, topped by the Bronze Star Medal for Valor. He's got parachutist's wings and a diver's badge pinned along with other hardware to his overburdened uniform shirt. He's also a combat medic.

What brought this imposing figure to the academy?

"I had a pretty bad jump in 2003," he said.

A hip replacement relegated him to a desk.

When Hardy got the call to be become the senior enlisted adviser to the academy's commandant of cadets this year, he was sweating bullets.

"I'm not going to lie to you," he said. "I was scared out of my mind about what I was going to get into.

"It's the most fun I've ever had," he added.

Hardy helps ready cadets for the battlefield.

Although the war is winding down in Afghanistan, threats remain. And when cadets become lieutenants, they'll lead battle-hardened warriors honed by a dozen years of fighting.

"The biggest mission is reinvigorating their warrior spirit," Hardy said. "We're trying to remind them that they're airmen."

Hardy stalks the hallways, talking to cadets. He tells them what it's like in battle.

The ones who stumble wind up in front of his desk, in an office decorated with souvenirs of a career in battle, including shell casings and Goldfein's uniform nametag.

"If they have to come see me, it's a bad day," he said.

So he wants them to learn when he goes to them.

"I take it deadly serious that I will salute these guys some day," Hardy said.

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Tom Roeder: 476-1656

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