Reservist retires after 37 years: Experienced many challenges, changes

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Marnee A.C. Losurdo
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

It was the year that everyone was calling “Ghostbusters,” Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire, Wendy’s aired their “Where’s the Beef” commercial, astronauts made the first untethered spacewalk, Congressman Geraldine Ferraro joined Democrat Walter Mondale as the first woman to run on a major political party’s presidential ticket, Ronald Reagan defeated Mondale with a record-breaking 525 electoral votes, and the Soviet Union and 13 other communist nations boycotted the Summer Olympics in the midst of the Cold War.   

It’s also the year Lt. Col. Timothy Weiher, 815th Airlift Squadron assistant director of operations, commissioned into the U.S. Air Force through the ROTC program at the University of Southern Mississippi. The Reserve Citizen Airman will retire this month after 37 years of service.

In 1984, the new lieutenant began his 12-year active-duty career with the Air Force and was working his way through undergraduate pilot training at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

“I had my ups and downs in pilot training but was able to get through it,” he said. “When you start undergraduate pilot training you have these grand illusions of being a fighter pilot, but that didn’t quite work out. I wanted to fly a combat aircraft so that’s when I elected to fly the B-52 and asked to go to Minot.”

Yes, that’s Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, where the average temperature throughout the year varies from 5 to 83 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Yeah, it gets cold but you endure it,” said Weiher. “I’m not much of a big-city person, and I wanted to fly the B-52 and they also had the T-38 ACE (Accelerated Co-pilot Enrichment) program where copilots could gain more flight experience and pilot in-command time, and I enjoyed flying the T-38, so that’s why I selected Minot.”

Weiher was at Minot for 8 years flying the B-52 Stratofortress, a long-range, heavy bomber that can fly at high subsonic speeds at altitudes up to 50,000 feet and can carry nuclear or precision guided conventional ordnance. While there, he upgraded to aircraft commander, instructor pilot, attended the B-52 Weapons Instructor Course, and served in the 5th Operations Support Squadron’s weapons and tactics office as the tactics pilot and chief of the shop. His next assignment was to the B-52 Weapons School at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, where he served as an instructor for a year before they moved the school to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.

“And then, unfortunately, it depends on how you look at it, I got passed over for promotion to major,” said Weiher, who was passed over for promotion in 1995 and 1996 during the downsizing of the Air Force. “You are always going to have highs and lows in your career, and this was probably the lowest point in my career, but you just have to work through it.”

When he joined the Air Force, the United States was in the midst of the Cold War and had about 600,000 personnel. The Cold War ended in 1991 and after the Gulf War all the services downsized. By 1997 the Air Force had around 377,000 personnel, and by 2014 that number dropped to about 326,000, according to statistics from the Defense Manpower Data Center, Office of the Secretary of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense.

After some contemplation about what he wanted to do next, in 1997, he joined the Air Force Reserve’s 403rd Wing at Keesler AFB.

“Looking back, maybe it all happened for the best because it allowed me to start a second career here with the 403rd," he said. "I’ve done a lot of things here that I never would have been able to do if I had stayed on active duty. You never really know what doors are going to open.”

Weiher was no stranger to the 403rd, as his father Lee, a retired Air Force master sergeant, worked here as a dropsonde operator.

“The majority of his time was in the Air Weather Service as a ground observer and forecaster and then he transitioned into the aerial reconnaissance side of the mission, so prior to his retirement, he was an active duty liaison with the 815th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron,” said Weiher.

In 1973, the 815th Tactical Airlift Squadron was reactivated as part of the Air Force Reserve. Three years later it was renamed the 815th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron “Storm Trackers” and conducted that mission for the next 12 years until 1987 when the 815th was redesignated as a tactical airlift unit.

Master Sgt. Weiher left Keesler and retired from active duty at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, in 1979 and then came back to Keesler and continued his service as a civilian with the 53rd WRS as a civilian dropsonde operator serving an additional 20 years. He retired from civil service with the 53rd in 1999.

Weiher applied for a pilot position with the 53rd WRS, but he was asked to fly with the 815th AS.

“I went over to the squadron, and there was Lt. Col. (then captain) Walt Ord,” said Weiher, adding that he was in the same ROTC detachment at Southern Mississippi and attended B-52 training with Ord at Castle AFB, California.

Ord, who retired as the 815th director of operations in 2020, had kept in touch intermittently with Weiher over the years. Ord, who also got caught up in the drawdowns in the 90’s, said he talked to Weiher in 1995 about transferring to the Reserve, which he did in 1996.

“The next thing I know he’s showing up down the street at the weather squadron, and I’m like the heck with that,” said Ord. “I was in the 403rd OSS (Operations Support Squadron) at that time, and I suggested to leadership that with all his experience they should put him the 815th. And the rest is history. We have both been bouncing around here for a long time.”

Weiher started out as a traditional reservist and C-130E aircraft commander and was hired as an Air Reserve Technician in September 1999. Since then he’s held a variety of positions in the 815th AS, 53rd WRS and 403rd Operations Group.

“That same year, I was fortunate to get selected to participate in the C-130J Super Hercules operational test and evaluation by then Maj. Jay Jensen (now Maj. Gen. Jensen),” said Weiher, who was part of a mixed cadre of cadre of Reserve, Air National Guard, and active duty pilots and loadmasters who completed the first phase of the OT&E.

“We went out and flew missions that were representative of what we would do for the air land portion and evaluated how the aircraft performed and if it was able to meet the requirements for us to perform the mission,” he said.

After the first phase of the OT&E was completed in 2000, Weiher went back to the 815th as a cadre instructor to help the unit with their transition to the new airframe, and served as the squadron’s chief of standardization and evaluation. 

The 815th received the C-130J starting in 1999 and those first aircraft were used during the OT&E which was conducted at Keesler.  After OT&E was completed, the 815th AS began the unit conversion to the C-130J. 

In 2001, he moved to the 403rd Operations Group and became their chief of standardization and evaluation, assisting the group with the C-130J and WC-130J transition and the Aircrew Standardization and Evaluation Visit, or ASEV, where Air Mobility Command administered evaluations and examined programs dealing with C-130J and WC-130H and J operations.

Although the 53rd WRS also received its first WC-130J in 1999 and flew its first hurricane mission in the new model Nov. 16 into Hurricane Lenny, the unit did not begin unit conversion to the WC-130J until 2005.  From 1999 until 2005 the unit performed operational weather reconnaissance missions in the WC-130H while the WC-130J was progressing through OT&E, said Weiher. 

In 2003, both Weiher and Ord moved to the 53rd WRS to aid the unit in the transition to the WC-130J.  He added that leadership at the time wanted to expand the mission capability of the unit, so both led the efforts in qualifying pilots in both day and night unaided and night vision google airland assault operations.

Weiher said he didn’t take part in the phase II evaluation, which tested the tactical airdrop aspect of the mission, as that occurred a year and a half later and by that time he’d moved to work in the 53rd WRS from 2003 to 2006. He served as their chief pilot and assistant director of operations. While with the 53rd, he flew the 2005 season, which was the first year executing the weather reconnaissance mission strictly with the WC-130J. He flew the first WC-130J operational storm mission into Hurricane Adrian and went on to accomplish 47 hurricane penetrations that year, while also living through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In 2006, Weiher was then assigned to work as the 403rd OSS chief of tactics. During this time, he served as the wing’s lead instructor pilot for new airdrop tactics, techniques and procedures, known as TTPs, and led the implementation of new communications capabilities on the C-130J.

While there, in August 2010, he saw the Air Force activate the 345th Airlift Squadron, an associate squadron composed of active duty personnel, at Keesler and integrated its members in operations of the 815th.

“That was a pretty unique time frame as we were the only C-130J active associate and it was a success story,” he said.

In 2011, Weiher, along with Ord and members of the 345th and 815th, and sister Air Mobility Command unit, the 41st Airlift Squadron, deployed to Southwest Asia and set numerous C-130J records in the theater for best aircraft availability, missions flown, as well as passengers and cargo carried.

“Eighty-two airdrops in one month with four planes; nobody is going to break that record,” said Ord. “What you had was a perfect storm of things that came together: the requirements for the drops, the airplanes were working great, we had maintainers who could keep them that way, and you had the right leadership, people and crews. It was a great team.”

All seemed to be going well, until 2013, when as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, the Air Force announced plans to transfer 10 of the 403rd Wing's C-130J Super Hercules aircraft to another unit and close the 815th AS and 345th AS.

“It was a shock,” said Weiher.  “We never got a reason why they wanted to close the squadron and move the planes; you think your unit is doing a great job, being the first Air Force unit to bring the J online and then setting records with it while deployed. It was a challenging time with a lot of uncertainty with what was going to happen with everybody.”

Fortunately for the 403rd and its Reserve Citizen Airmen, two years later the Secretary of the Air Force reversed that recommendation, beginning the programming and budgeting work to restore personnel and mission capability at the wing.

“This squadron is special,” said Weiher. “They have been through so many ups and downs over the years, but they have always persevered and we’ve always tried to take care of each other.”

Weiher then took on the next challenge of his career and assisted with the unit’s restoration. On Nov. 3, 2017, the Flying Jennies were at full operational capability, and were ready to deploy and provide combat-ready Airmen to conduct the combat airlift mission. The squadron went on their first deployment in 2018 since the 2013 announcement.

“Tim was absolutely integral to our successful rebuild of the 815th Airlift Squadron. His knowledge and expertise set the squadron on a path to success that they continue to build on,” said Col. Stuart Rubio, 403rd Wing commander who served as the 815th AS commander from 2016 to 2019.

The French saying is that the more things change the more they stay the same, and 2020 and 2021 have been unprecedented ones as well with COVID-19, social issues, the border crisis, and all the ongoing political debates. During Weiher’s career, through all the highs and lows, and seven presidential administrations, he said he’s seen things come full circle.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes,” said Weiher, who has participated in many operations to include Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, New Dawn, Inherent Resolve, and Freedom’s Sentinel is Southwest Asia. “Now things have transitioned back to where we are in this peer to peer competitive environment with China and Russia.”

Regardless of the time, challenge or the task, Weiher said he always tried to lead by example, do the right thing, and do his best at any job he was assigned throughout his 37 year career.

“I always treated people how I wanted to be treated, expected them to do their best and set high standards. I took care of the needs of the mission but always knew you can’t get the mission done without good people; you need to take care of those who you work with,” said Weiher, who thanked his coworkers for their support after he lost his wife of 16 years, Lori, to cancer in 2017. “They helped me through some tough times. They really were my family during that time. I will miss flying, but I’m going to miss the people the most.”

And they will miss him too, said Ord.

“What made Timmy special was his patience and dedication,” said. Ord. “You could count on him to do everything he was supposed to do the right way; whether anyone was looking or not; if you were supposed to do it a certain way he was going to do it that way. That’s a great quality that the unit respects; they will miss him.”