The first enlisted senior advisor of Strategic Air Command and sixth chief master sergeant of the Air Force, James M. McCoy, passed away Wednesday, a press release from the Air Force announced.

He was just three weeks shy of his 92nd birthday.

As the top enlisted airman from 1979 to 1981, McCoy sought to improve the enlisted retention rate, created the Stripes for Exceptional Performers program and expanded professional military education options.

His legacy also includes the introduction of maternity uniforms at a time when pregnant airmen had to wear civilian clothes after they reached a certain point in their pregnancy.

“When we talk about standing on the shoulders of giants, we are talking about Airmen like CMSAF McCoy,” Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass said in the press release.

Originally from Iowa, McCoy enlisted in the Air Force in 1951 as a radar operator with Aerospace Defense Command in Alaska. Following the Korean War, however, McCoy decided to pursue a career in training the next generation of airmen, serving as a drill instructor at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, from 1956 to 1957. He followed this post with time spent in charge of training non-commissioned officers at Clark AFB in the Philippines and operating a command post during the 1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis.

McCoy also spent time early in his career serving as assistant to the commandant of cadets for the University of Notre Dame’s Air Force ROTC program.

In 1960, McCoy was made commandant of Strategic Air Command’s NCP prep school at Bunker Hill AFB, Indiana. Two years later, he served as an instructor at the 2nd Air Force NCO Academy at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana. He was named the academy’s sergeant major in 1966, also earning his bachelor’s in business administration that same year.

Continuing to dedicate his service to training airmen, McCoy was in charge of NCO operations at the 41st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Wing at Hickam AFB, Hawaii. He oversaw training programs for rescue aircrews, and eventually became the chief of military training and deputy chief of staff for personnel for Pacific Air Forces in 1973.

In 1976, McCoy returned to SAC as its senior enlisted adviser. He was named chief master sergeant of the Air Force in 1979, working alongside Chief of Staff Gen. Lew Allen Jr. and Air Force Secretary Hans M. Mark. McCoy retired just a few years later, in 1981, after 30 years of faithful service.

“His passion for taking care of our Airmen was only exceeded by his humility. He was an icon of our great Air Force — and a hero to us all,” said the current chief master sergeant of the Air Force, JoAnne Bass.

In retirement, McCoy served as the Air Force Association’s National President from 1992 until 1994. He also served two terms as chairman of the board at AFA, making him the first enlisted airman to hold both positions.

“Chief McCoy left a legacy that highlights the instrumental role senior enlisted leaders have in our mission, both as executors and advisors,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr.

“Improving education, equality, and quality of life were hallmarks of his time in service that helped shape the force we have today, and his dedication to Airmen and families continued in his post-retirement work with the Air Force Association and other civic organizations,” Brown added. “I am grateful for his contributions to our service and am saddened to learn of his passing.”

Among McCoy’s numerous awards and recognitions were the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Award and a 2016 induction into the Strategic Air Command’s Hall of Fame.

Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran, Penn State alumna and Master's candidate at New York University for Business and Economic Reporting. She has also written for VTDigger and New York Magazine, and previously worked as the Early Bird Brief Editor for Defense News and Military Times.

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