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Former weatherman helps 131st Medical Group weather storm

Staff Sgt. Tony Rich, training manager for the 131st Medical Group, reviews required training in the aerospace medical technician field with Tech. Sgt. Daniel Conley, 131st Medical Group, Nov. 16, 2013, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Nathan Dampf)

Staff Sgt. Tony Rich, training manager for the 131st Medical Group, reviews required training in the aerospace medical technician field with Tech. Sgt. Daniel Conley, 131st Medical Group, Nov. 16, 2013, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Nathan Dampf)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo -- When Staff Sgt. Tony Rich transitioned from the active duty Air Force to the 131st Bomb Wing, Missouri Air National Guard, his mission changed from predicting the weather to dealing with its aftermath.

After serving as an Air Force meteorologist and deploying with the Army's 101st Airborne Division, Rich joined the Missouri Air National Guard as a training manager with the 131st Medical Group in March 2012. Although Rich thought he was done with the weather when he left active duty, he soon learned that his new role would force him to deal with the effects of a devastating 2011 tornado, he said.

He was up for the challenge.

"I enjoyed jumping into the middle of the chaos," said Rich, who was charged with rebuilding a training management program literally from the ground up following a devastating tornado at the wing's St. Louis headquarters. The program had to be strong in advance of an upcoming inspection. On top of the damage caused by the storm, the unit was already in flux because it was amidst its transition from Lambert Airport to Whiteman Air Force Base.

"When I stepped in, I was immersed in training every day, in and outside of drill," he said.

As a result, Rich and his fellow Airmen worked overtime to make sure the group was prepared for their inspection. Their efforts paid off. The 131st Medical Group received an 'Outstanding' rating during the 2013 assessment, and inspectors recognized Rich as a top performer, said group commander Col. Joan Peterson.

"When Rich stepped into the position as an Airman, I talked to him and said, 'You'll have my full support," Peterson said. "He was that catalyst for change. His demeanor exemplified those characteristics you only find in high-ranking officers."

Although Rich had no medical background, he seamlessly stepped into his role managing and administering the group's training program, said Peterson. Rich is the point of contact for all on-the-job training and "forecasts" training needs.

Of all the tasks, the weatherman-turned-training-expert says what he loves most about his job is helping others.

"I love coming into drill weekends and hitting the ground running," said Rich. "There are people who come in. They have a list of items. I have to resolve those things and see them through. I enjoy getting them the training they need and answering their questions."

Helping those around him has not gone unnoticed. When the group held its Airman of the Year board, Rich was selected as the group's top noncommissioned officer.

Rich has a bright future with the 131st, Peterson said.

"He is such a high-caliber Airman who can take us wherever we need to go," said Peterson. "He is that exceptional, shining star you're happy to work with. You need to watch out for Tony Rich."