First enlisted AFW specialist selected for master's program

  • Published
  • By Mr. Miles Brown
  • Air Force Weather Agency Public Affairs
It is not everyday that an Air Force Weather member gets to make history. But the truth is, being selected to attend the Air Force Institute of Technology Graduate School of Engineering and Management as an enlisted member of weather was unheard of-until now.

Master Sgt. Robert Steenburgh, 3rd Weather Squadron Readiness Flight Chief, Fort Hood, Texas, is the first enlisted weather professional selected to attend a master's program at AFIT. More impressively, he is the first Air Force enlisted member selected to attend a program in the Department of Engineering Physics.

Earning a position to the Air Force's premier professional continuing education institution is no small feat. All applicants must meet stiff requirements even before being considered for one of the typically in-resident positions.

"Senior enlisted are eligible to attend any AFIT program for which they are academically qualified-just like any officer," said Lt. Col. Ron Lowther, Department of Engineering Physics Deputy Head, AFIT Graduate School of Engineering and Management. All prospective students must be recommended by their wing commander, meet all the educational prerequisites, and satisfy all military service eligibility factors.

Master Sgt. Steenburgh exceeded all these requirements. His application package was reviewed by the Air Force Learning and Development Division at the Pentagon. Once his and other applications were reviewed for program requirements, the admissions team at AFIT reviewed the transcripts to ensure prospective students had the potential to succeed in the demanding graduate programs offered at the Institute.

Then and only then, according to Chief Master Sgt. Denise Alexander, Chief of the Leaning and Development Division, do all enlisted packages meet a chief's board for final selection.

However, Sergeant Steenburgh's path to selection at AFIT started much earlier than the day he sent forward an application package. Growing up in Ohio, he learned early that weather has a great impact on people's lives.

"I remember being huddled under my father's workbench, with my mother and siblings, in the basement of our house during tornado warnings.

"The super-outbreak of 1974 happened when I was 9 years old. Though our town was spared, I remember the images [of devastation] on TV," he recalls. This, and the opportunity to learn about meteorology as a young teenager, from some helpful weather technicians at the weather service office in Columbus, Ohio, piqued his interest in weather.

It was these early weather experiences and his self-admitted poor swimming abilities that made his decision to join the Air Force instead of the Navy a rather simple choice. Once in the Air Force and loving his weather career choice, Sergeant Steenburgh continued the college career he had put on hold to enter the service. Eager to make up for lost time, he quickly completed an associate's degree in weather technology through the Community College of the Air Force. Later, he completed a second AS degree and continued his professional military education courses. In an effort to keep the momentum, Technical Sgt. Steenburgh then completed a Bachelor of Science in Meteorology.

"I consider it a professional responsibility to seek and complete education and training, particularly in a specialty as complex as meteorology," said Sergeant Steenburgh.

He continues to challenge all enlisted service members to press forward with their educational goals. "I encourage everyone with an interest to further their education, [to] complete their undergraduate degree and compete for an AFIT slot. You'll never know if you don't try."

Sergeant Steenburgh credits the support and encouragement from his supervisors, peers and subordinates as a large part of his educational accomplishments.

"It was my former supervisor, retired Senior Master Sgt. Gary Mercer, who convinced me to put my hat in the ring [for the AFIT program]. I owe him a debt of gratitude. I am grateful to my chain of command for supporting me and to those who wrote letters of recommendation for my package."

Additionally, the love and support of his family has help pave the way for professional success. "My family makes sacrifices to enable me to pursue this opportunity-they have always been supportive throughout my Air Force career," he said.

The challenge of entering a demanding 21-month master's program is first and foremost on his list of goals according to Sergeant Steenburgh. But, after AFIT, he said he hopes to "use the knowledge I gain to support the Air Force mission, benefit our Nation, and advance science."

He is going to have that opportunity very soon. His assignment, upon his graduation from AFIT, is with the one of the nation's leading weather institutions - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colo.