AL DHAFRA AIR BASE, United Arab Emirates --
On his final flight wrapping up a year-long deployment to Al Dhafra Air Base, the 380th Expeditionary Operations Group vice commander passed the 8,000 flight hour mark as he landed an E-3 Sentry aircraft at dusk on Sept. 3, 2021.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Brian “20” Hardeman spent the last year at ADAB, helping lead the operations group through the challenges of the pandemic and the drawdown and non-combatant evacuation operations in Afghanistan, while concurrently meeting the daily requirements in support of U.S. Central Command air operations.
While a daunting feat for any wing, the 380th EOG did not falter. “The collective leadership and problem-solving skills of 380th AEW leaders and my teammates helped us persevere as an enterprise, encouraged thinking outside the box, to successfully resolve the challenges presented,” Hardeman said.
His commander, U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Lake, 380 EOG, attributes a large part of their success to Hardeman.
“Colonel Hardeman is a great leader who has been the continuity that’s kept the EOG running smoothly for over a year,” Lake said. “He’s completely dedicated to getting the mission done, no matter what.”
The group’s senior enlisted leader, U.S Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jacob Fairburn, 380 EOG, agreed with Lake’s sentiments.
“Lt. Col. Hardeman has proven time and time again to be the true EOG lynch pin,” Fairburn said. “He welcomes everyone as family and is truly mission oriented in a way that keeps the entire team motivated.”
Hardeman not only served as a leader of the operations group, he also flew missions in support of the Afghanistan retrograde and historic evacuation operations.
“It was a remarkable experience being part of something of this magnitude,” he said.
Hardeman flew in Afghanistan in the beginning of the military buildup almost twenty years ago and spent time at most of the forward operating bases there.
“I’ll never forget being able to fly in support of NEO, and to assist in the evacuation of over 100,000 evacuees who supported the US efforts and objectives,” he said. “I’m truly honored to have been a part of it.”
The successes during his time at ADAB are too many to number, but to Hardeman, the most notable was watching “Team Al Dhafra, the most diverse Wing in CENTCOM,” wield its impressive amount of capability.
“To see the wing’s awesome determination to defend the region and support the mission in whatever way necessary was phenomenal,” he said.
On top of an already-successful deployment, crossing the 8,000 flight hour mark on his final combat sortie was icing on the cake. It took over 34 years of service and two airframes, the C-141 Starlifter and E-3 Sentry, to accumulate that many hours.
According to Lake, “8,000 flying hours is a huge milestone in any aviator’s career – most never even get half of that.”
On top of that, the 8,000 hours is just the time actually spent in the air, Fairburn explained, and doesn’t take into account the countless pre- and post-flight requirements.
“Also, all those flight hours equate to time away from home and often working very long duty days,” Fairburn said.
Another unique aspect, Fairburn explains, is that “the first half of Hardeman’s flying hours were on the enlisted side of the house, as a flight engineer and also a load master.”
Hardeman’s goal when he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1987 was to fly.
“I am fortunate to have achieved my goal as an enlisted aviator and an officer,” he said. “I love to fly and I wouldn’t trade the years of memories and experiences for the world.”
Thirty-four years after enlisting and on the last day of his year at ADAB, he achieved what few Airmen ever do.
“Crossing the milestone of 8,000 flying hours in a combat environment feels awesome!” he said. “My only wish would have been to have my wife, Sheri there upon landing to help me celebrate the occasion.”
The day following his final flight, Hardeman boarded a flight back home. More celebrations soon to follow!