MADISON, Wis. - Maj. Gen. John McCoy enlarged the Wisconsin National Guard officer constellation a bit when he formally pinned his second star during a March 13 ceremony in the Senate Chamber of the state capitol.
While the Wisconsin National Guard is authorized six general officer positions at one time, typically only the Wisconsin adjutant general is eligible to hold the rank of major general. McCoy will remain in the Wisconsin Air National Guard, but owes his new rank to a duty position outside of Wisconsin - in May he will begin his job as the Air National Guard assistant to the Air Education and Training Command (AETC) commander at Joint Base San Antonio-Rudolph. In that position, he will advise and assist the AETC commander and staff on the impact policies and programs will have on the more than 106,000 Air National Guard members who make up 88 Flying Wings.
McCoy is not the first Wisconsin Air National Guard general officer to receive a second star outside of Wisconsin. Maj. Gen. Steven Foster, a former commander at the 115th Fighter Wing in Madison, Wisconsin, went on to positions with Northern Command (NorthCom) and Central Command (CentCom). And Maj. Gen. Fred Sloan, a former deputy adjutant general for Air in Wisconsin, went on to serve as Air National Guard assistant to the commander of Air Combat Command.
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general, pointed out that the significance to McCoy's general officer career is not limited to a second star.
"In this organization - the blue suit organization - it used to be that if you were going to wear a star, you were wearing a set of wings," Dunbar explained. "It was a rite of passage - if you were good enough to fly an airplane, you might be good enough to be a general officer. It was very rare to see somebody without a set of wings be a general officer. In Maj. Gen. McCoy's case, he was the best officer to be the deputy adjutant general for Air, and I view that as a positive for our organization. It's a testament to our organization that we take the best man or woman for the job, and wow, was he the best guy for the job."
McCoy began his 36-year Wisconsin National Guard career as a Wisconsin Army National Guard enlistee, serving as a fuel specialist before transferring to the Wisconsin Air National Guard's 128th Air Refueling Wing. He was the administration and personnel officer for the 128th when Dunbar became the refueling wing commander in 2005. When Dunbar was selected to become adjutant general two years later, he tabbed McCoy to serve as the next deputy adjutant general for Air.
McCoy served in that role for five years during a challenging period of deployments and inspections. In 2013 he became the Wisconsin Air National Guard chief of staff, and later that year became the Joint Staff director and deputy adjutant general for civil support.
During that time, McCoy also gained an additional assignment as the Air National Guard assistant to the 24th Air Force commander. The 24th Air Force is the cyber command for the Air Force.
"And all of that would be a great career," Dunbar said during the pinning ceremony. "Retiring at some point as a brigadier general in the United States Air Force and the Wisconsin Air National Guard would be an unbelievable career. It is very hard to get an opportunity to serve at the two-star level. There's just a handful of position across the country that you can be selected to be an Air National Guard assistant to a major command of the United States Air Force, and this is the role Maj. Gen. McCoy is about to fulfill - hand-picked by Lt. Gen. Sid Clarke, director of the Air National Guard.
"He could have picked any one-star in the system - he chose John McCoy," Dunbar continued. "That's how good this officer is."
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who attended the ceremony on behalf of Gov. Scott Walker and helped pin a star on McCoy's uniform, described the general as "the epitome" of what comes to mind when thinking of the Air National Guard.
McCoy said that his success was not solely by his own efforts - he had support and encouragement throughout his military career.
"If you are here, you know we share a special story," he told the group of family, friends and military colleagues at the ceremony.
Though the pinning ceremony was held in mid-March, McCoy's promotion was official Dec. 10, 2014. That date is significant to him and to members of the 128th Air Refueling Wing - on that day in 1993, six Airmen were killed instantly when one of the Wing's stratotankers exploded during a routine service. McCoy had himself been on that very aircraft the day before as part of a flight to Washington, D.C. and back.
"We all said we'd never forget," McCoy said, fighting back emotion. "For me, my date of rank will ensure I never forget."
McCoy thanked Dunbar, as well as the Wisconsin National Guard and Wisconsin Emergency Management. He also thanked his wife of 16 years, Shelley, and their nearly-12-year-old daughter Megan, for their support and understanding as his career required frequent absences from family events.
McCoy also took the opportunity to formally thank BJ Pfeiffer of Enterprise Solutions Technology Group, Inc., a local information technology firm that has employed his wife about as long as they have been married. Mike Williams, chairman of the Wisconsin Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve - and also McCoy's first military commander 36 years ago - presented Pfeiffer with a Statement of Support and a Patriot Award.
"It truly is a family," McCoy said. "It's obvious that no one can do these jobs alone. I truly appreciate all the support and encouragement I've received over the years. Any success I've achieved has been because of all of you."