KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
“I can think back to when I was in pre-school,” said Ashley Lundry. “It’s one of those vague memories that you have. I remember one of the local meteorologists coming into my pre-school class, and she brought a board that had the magnetic weather symbols and talked about the weather. It was a female meteorologist, so I thought that was really cool and that’s one of those memories has stuck out to me through my whole career.”
That career? We will get there.
Lundry, a self-proclaimed “Navy brat” experienced the quintessential military child life, moving around from place to place going wherever her helicopter pilot dad went. Along with her pre-school recollection, her dad’s experiences also influenced her trajectory in life when, early in her childhood, he told her there were people who actually flew into hurricanes.
Typically, kids who are fascinated with flying and airplanes are usually more into fighter jets or stunt planes or even big commercial airplanes, not bulky turboprop aircraft hurling smack into 100-plus mph wind gusts, horizontal rain, and lightning.
Lundry, not the typical kid, said, “I thought that would be the coolest job ever.”
Fast-forward from those childhood dreams to time for college. She was still holding onto her love for weather and had aspirations to work in weather in the military. She accepted an Army Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship to Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in meteorology. Upon graduation, she realized she would not be able to use her degree in the Army and opted to commission into the Army Reserve in order to be a meteorologist in the civilian world while still fulfilling her military obligation.
After four years as a logistics officer in the Army Reserve, Lundry said that thanks to good timing and a little bit of luck, the unit she was with relocated, so her options were to either travel or find a new unit. This allotted her the opportunity to join the Oklahoma Air National Guard in 2010 as a weather officer for an Army support unit.
Four years later, she became one of those people her dad had told her about. She applied for and earned a position with the Air Force Reserve 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron “Hurricane Hunters” here, where, after some time, she took a full-time position as an Air Reserve Technician aerial reconnaissance weather officer.
But that is only the first part of her story.
Fast-forward once more to early 2019.
As much as she said she loves her job as an ARWO, she loves science that much more, and at a conference involving the 53rd WRS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and their Hurricane Hunters she learned about the scientific and research projects they do during their weather missions as well as about all of the different locations they go to for research purposes.
“I love my job here, and I wouldn’t leave it for any other position … except for that,” said Lundry.
In February 2019, Lundry transitioned back to a traditional reservist role in order to become a flight director for the NOAA Aircraft Operations Center Hurricane Hunters.
The little girl who was in awe of the female meteorologist with the weather magnets in her pre-school class and her dad’s stories grew up to be a meteorologist, a service member, a Hurricane Hunter, and bonus-- a Hurricane Hunter.
In both her ARWO and flight director positions, Lundry joked that the main difference is that one flight suit is blue and the other is green, but there are some other significant differences. A large one being that with the 53rd WRS she operates on a WC-130J Super Hercules while with NOAA she can find herself on either a WP-3D Orion or a Gulfstream IV-SP jet. The missions of the WC-130J and WP-3D are similar, flying through the eye of a storm to collect data, but the Gulfstream has provided Lundry with a learning opportunity as its mission takes place far above the storm to collect atmospheric data.
In addition to the different aircraft is the difference in the crews Lundry collaborates with. The 53rd WRS can run a mission with five members: two pilots, a navigator, a loadmaster and an ARWO as their only concern is releasing dropsondes and getting that data to the NHC while NOAA’s missions accommodate a variety of researchers on any given flight creating a more complex task of making sure everyone’s needs are met while keeping the entire crew out of harm’s way.
“It’s challenging, and I’m still figuring it out, but both of my bosses are so supportive of this and working with me,” said Lundry when asked how she balanced both positions. “It’s challenging for any traditional reservist balancing a civilian job and being a reservist. It doesn’t matter if you are a Hurricane Hunter or not.”
In addition to wearing multiple hats, or maybe flight caps would be more accurate, Lundry is a mother of two and a wife, so while she enjoys the opportunity to live out her childhood dreams, it does not come without its sacrifices.
“It’s hard being on the road and being away from my kids,” said Lundry.
While she said it is difficult to be away, she recalled how hard it was when her dad would have to leave and how she was thankful for technological advancements like video chat that allow her to stay connected with her children when she is gone. She also touted the support of her husband, who left his own job to become a stay-at-home-dad, and her extended family who help take care of the kids.
“It’s the same for any reservist. You have a weekend and you’re going to drill and doing the job because you love it, but there are times I’m sure where you’re sitting through training or you have something going on and you say, ‘I’d rather be at the park right now with my kids or spending time with my family.’ You feel like you’re missing out. You’re making a sacrifice. I am definitely making that sacrifice with these two jobs, but everyone that does any job as a reservist is making that same sacrifice.”
As for the future, Lundry said for now she likes where she is at.
“I feel like I’ve got so much to learn still that I just really want to focus on doing the best job that I can in both positions and see what doors open up,” said Lundry.
Overall, Lundry knows that she is just one part of a very significant whole. From the pilots to the navigators to the maintenance and so on for the Reserve side to the technicians, engineers and scientists on the NOAA side, it takes a lot to make what she describes as a very important mission with a very important impact successful.
While being a part of that big picture is great, there is also a personal impact she hopes to have doing this job in a predominantly male field.
“Like I said in the beginning, I remember the female meteorologist that came into my preschool class,” said Lundry. “It’s such a vague memory, but I remember the board with the weather shapes and thinking it was so cool. I hope that I can have the same impact that she had on me, to help another young girl realize that she can do whatever she decides to do.”