GRAD SPEAK: Holding Down the Fort with Robert Hinkle & Nick Johns

  • Drew Poplin

Near the banks of the Chattahoochee River, Fort Moore stands as a bustling hub of the U.S. Army. Dubbed the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, you can expect to see everyone from basic training recruits to Army Rangers regiments. Every year, nearly 80,000 soldiers will be trained at Fort Moore. As you can imagine, this results in many firearms needing to be available for these trainings.

Today is a particularly busy day for both Robert Hinkle and Nick Johns. As small arms technicians with TACOM FMX, their job is to support the training that goes on at Fort Moore by providing weapons inspection, maintenance, and repairs. With a big training operation coming up, Hinke and Johns spent the last two days working on over 100 M249 SAWs. Despite the unusually large workload that they’ve had as of late, both men have thrived in this environment.

A Lineage of Service

Despite the difference in age between the two, both men come from similar backgrounds. Both were raised in small towns in the southeastern United States and grew up with many ties to the military. For Johns, his grandfather was a member of the infantry training board, where he made training films. Hinkle is a third-generation soldier.

While they share many similarities in their story, there are a few divergences in each man’s path. Hinkle would go on to serve for 28 years as a combat engineer; Johns would go the path of an infantryman for six years until he, unfortunately, had to medically retire from the service in 2014. A few years later, he would come across SDI for the first time. According to Johns, “I actually attempted SDI in 2017. When I got out of the army, I was watching that show Sons of Guns on Discovery Channel back in the day and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna be a gunsmith.’ I started cleaning my guns at my table at the house. I started SDI [but] I had some things come up to where I couldn’t quite finish it.”

Meanwhile, Hinkle had retired in the Columbus (Georgia) area, then unretired in late 2014 to start a job as a hospital clerk at the Martin Army Hospital. A few years later, Hinkle and Johns’ paths would finally intersect.

Toward the beginning of 2019, Fort Moore was running short on small arms repairmen. Hinkle, hearing about the opportunity, decided to attend a job fair for the position. Within a few hours, he was hired. He was followed a month later by Johns and the two became coworkers.

Starting SDI

Despite learning a lot about working on various firearms through their position at Fort Moore, both men wanted to learn more and utilize their GI Bill. Johns still had the desire to finish what he had started with SDI. And as Hinkle puts it, “So I was 9-10 months into this job. The people that were doing on-the-job training for me were outstanding. It was like drinking from a water hose fire hose. But I wanted something a little bit more. And Nick was telling me about the school and I was like, ‘Okay, well maybe I can pace myself.’ It just seemed like the right thing to do just to enhance my knowledge and abilities.”

After Johns’ mention of SDI, both men decided to make the leap. In late 2019, Hinkle enrolled in the Certificate in Firearms Technology – Gunsmithing program, and Johns re-enrolled in the same program.

Overcoming Challenges

While the work itself wasn’t insurmountable, both men faced their own challenges. For Hinkle, who before SDI had little experience taking college courses, entering that world in his 50s was difficult.

For Johns, his struggle was one of time management and second-guessing himself. In addition to that, he had to deal with the passing of his father. But while it was devastating, they were able to share a great bonding moment while working on a school project.

As Johns describes it, “One of the biggest challenges I think that I had, but the best thing I did, was I was still in when the 80% lowers for the AR was going on. So I got to do that. And my father passed in November, but he was around, of course, during that time. And it was probably one of the coolest memories I have with him the last several years as he watched me mill out that 80%. He was so fascinated with it. That’s always probably my best memory of the course.”

After finishing the certificate program, both Hinkle and Johns decided to keep going and enroll in the Associate of Science in Firearms Technology program. Johns, who had a bit of a headstart on Hinkle, went on to complete his SDI journey. Hinkle wasn’t too far behind. In fact, when I sat down with both men, Hinkle was only a week away from graduating.

SDI Fridays

However, Hinkle and Johns aren’t the only two SDI grads at the fort. In fact, three of their coworkers are now also SDI graduates. This was, in great part, due to Hinkle and Johns spreading the word around work about their experience attending the school. Word, no doubt, continues to spread about SDI throughout Fort Moore as the guys have started a small tradition they call “SDI Fridays,” where every Friday they wear their SDI shirts to work.

Reflecting on their time at the school and what they would say to anyone considering enrolling, Hinkle expressed, “If anybody’s debating it, I would say jump on it. You’re not gonna lose anything. You’re going to gain something. Our job, it becomes redundant because we’re doing the same gun all the time. However, if you keep an open mind, a willingness to learn, and search out these things—like SDI—to do, you will always learn something almost every day. You’ll learn something new every day. And SDI kinda opened my eyes to that.”

Further Information

To start your journey of learning with SDI, click here to check out all the programs we offer. To read more stories like Robert Hinkle and Nick Johns’, you can see our full catalog of grad pieces here

Spread the love