Hurricane Hunters prove resiliency

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jessica Kendziorek
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

Is there something that you want so bad that you are willing to fight for it? Members of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron show that determination, persistence and timing plays a role in achieving personal goals.

“Always keep in mind that you shouldn’t take no for an answer,” said Lt. Col. Sean Cross, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance pilot. “Don’t listen to others, when they say you can’t advance. Keep pushing forward to achieve the goal.”

Cross said his original goal was to be a helicopter pilot, but the U.S. Army denied him, saying his Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) scores were not high enough to qualify. So in 1989 he started his military service in the Louisiana Air National Guard unit as an enlisted member. From late 1992 to early 1993 he applied for a pilot position, but was passed over.

In 1995, Cross transferred into the Air Force Reserve and assisted with the reactivation of the 5th Special Operations Squadron, a unit in the 919th Special Operations Wing, Duke Field, Florida. He continued to reach for his dream of becoming a pilot by getting his private pilot license, which helped him become an officer through that squadron. After becoming a military pilot, Cross later transferred to the 53rd WRS in 2001, because of the unit’s unique mission of flying through hurricanes to gather weather data.

Another setback came in 2016, when Cross was placed on a no-fly status for medical reasons. After treatment, getting medically cleared, and having to get waivers for reinstatement, Cross was finally cleared to fly again 19 months later.

He isn’t the only person who had to fight to get in and stay in. Master Sgt. Jeff Stack, 53rd WRS group standards and evaluations loadmaster, did as well.

In 2000, seven years after leaving the Navy, he enlisted into the Colorado Air National Guard and began a career in weather and then after seeing the 53rd WRS mission, Stack said, “I just knew that this was what I wanted to do and so I kept contacting them about an opening.  Finally getting a slot, I completed all of the paperwork, including the flight physical while I was in Colorado.”

Stack fought for the job and traveled to the 403rd Wing, paying for his own flights for an entire year before a different obstacle came about in 2005. He went through a divorce, moved to Mississippi, and also lost many of his belongings during Hurricane Katrina.

As if that wasn’t enough, in May 2016, Stack was placed on a no-fly status for medical reasons.

“I was told I would never fly again and that my career was pretty much done,” said Stack, due to a possible career ending medical condition. But, after receiving treatment, getting his paperwork for reinstatement signed, Stack finally was cleared to fly in April 2018.

Medical conditions could have cost one loadmaster his career, while an injury during training almost cost another hers.

Tech. Sgt. Karen Moore, 53rd WRS loadmaster, also fought to keep her career and stay in the U.S. Air Force Reserve after receiving a major injury to the tendon in her knee during the final portion of her loadmaster technical school in 2013.

"I don't tell many people this, but one of the doctors told me that I had two choices," she said. "One was to change my AFSC (Air Force Specialty Code), which meant I wouldn’t be able to fly, or get out of the military."

Prior to surgery, the tendon began trying to heal on its own, so after the surgery to repair the tendon and recovery she ended up with a bad limp and started physical therapy.

"It was a year and a half of hard work. There were some days I just wanted to quit, because of the pain,” she said. “But if I can encourage someone going through a tough time, then I will. This could happen to someone else, but I can honestly tell them that they can get through it; just don't give up; don't quit."

Not quitting is how Master Sgt. Troy Bickham, 53rd WRS loadmaster, deployed operations and 41st Aerial Port Squadron liaison, became a “Hurricane Hunter.”

“I was in the 41st APS for over 16 years and wanted to become a loadmaster,” said Bickham. “I just kept reaching out to the 53rd WRS and the 815th Airlift Squadron until something opened up.” 

It took almost five years of waiting and asking, but Bickham finally made it into the 53rd WRS in January 2006. Not only did Bickham go to the loadmaster school, he dual qualified as a weather and an airdrop loadmaster.

He started his loadmaster career doing Tanker Airlift Control Center missions, where he assisted in helping injured service members return to their home station. In November 2007, Bickham’s persistence and timing ended up with him getting an Air Reserve Technician position, a full-time civilian job that is tied to a military career field, in the 53rd WRS.

“Persistence is the key,” said Bickham. “Because if you don’t try, or keep pushing and asking, you won’t get what you want, and nobody is going to do it for you.”