Coatney serves her country

Nov. 07, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Cher Coatney joined the United States Army after high school because she wanted to meet new people and see new places.

“I had lived in Green Bay (Wisc.) my whole life and I think I left once when I was 16 for a family vacation. I saw the army as a way to get out,” Coatney said. “I graduated high school at 17 and waited a whole year before I actually went in. I talked to a friend who went in a year before and he introduced me to a recruiter and I signed up that week.”

Coatney enlisted in 1978 and completed her basic training at Fort McClellan in Alabama, where she was part of the last entirely female company to go through.

“You learn a lot about yourself when you go into the service because you’ve got nobody else around you. Nobody knows you or your history so you can be whoever you want,” Coatney said. “You can learn to be your own self. I learned a lot about myself just being in basic training.”

During the training, she earned expert badges in rifle, grenade and .45 handgun.

“The whole idea of basic training is to break you down and have a team concept for your whole company. You’re with 40 women you don’t know and some of them break and some don’t,” Coatney said. “I remember being really sad and shedding a few tears in the bunk when I first got started, but they really build you up and give you privileges after that.”

After basic training, Coatney spent two months back in Wisconsin as a high school recruiter. She then headed to Fort Rucker in Alabama to go to school for helicopter repair. After her schooling she was transfered to Fort Belvoir in Virginia and began working at Davison Army Airfield.

“I went into helicopter repair. It was UH-1 helicopters that we worked on and we had about a dozen or so helicopters in our hanger,” Coatney said. “It was a smaller airfield and we flew a lot of dignitaries to the Pentagon. The FBI helicopter was housed in our hanger so there were a lot of secret missions.”

Coatney’s company that worked at the airfield had 71 members; 68 were men and 3 were women. One of her best memories from the time was getting to fly the helicopters.

“You got to know a lot of the officers and since you worked on the

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helicopters, you had the chance that one of them would ask you to go up with them. I got to fly twice,” Coatney said. “They put you in the co-pilot seat and let you do all of the controls. It was fun. There’s so much to do.”

She also remembers one cold January evening when the airfield received some unexpected snow.

“They called us up at 2 a.m. We had gotten snow and we had a bunch of flights coming in,” Coatney said. “So about 40 of us were out there shoveling out lights at that time of morning.”

Coatney completed her service in 1981 when she decided to get married. She and her husband moved back to Wisconsin and had three children. In 2006 she got a divorce and met her current husband, Charlie Coatney, in 2007. The couple moved into their dream home in Rutherfordton in November of 2012.

“Charlie brought me to North Carolina in 2009. We were riding motorcycles on the Blue Ridge Parkway and I loved it. We rode the mountains again the next year and he picked up some real estate books because he had always talked about not wanting to live in Wisconsin forever,” Coatney said. “We found the perfect piece of land. When we came out to see the property for the first time, he proposed and I melted. That was three years ago.”

Coatney says that being called a veteran gives her a sense of pride. She still tears up when she hears the National Anthem.

“It gives you a lot of pride because you served your country and most people don’t. If you haven’t been in the military you really don’t have a clue what it’s like. You have to live it to know it,” Coatney said. “I think if you’re getting out of high school and you are lost and don’t know what to do, go into the military. Once you are there they let you achieve things and you do learn a lot about yourself.”