Patriot Wing's vice commander was born, raised in Pioneer Valley

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Andre Bowser
  • 439th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
When Col. Jeffrey F. Hancock joined the military in 1985, he fulfilled a boyhood dream: When he was 8 years old, he climbed a tree in Ludlow to watch an airplane take off from Westover.

After nearly three decades in the military, and rising to the second highest position at Westover, Col. Hancock is poised to retire from the Reserves in just one year. But the ride is far from over for this pilot. The vice commander of the 439Th Airlift Wing at Westover will still have many miles to fly as a first officer for UPS in his civilian aviation career.

Today, Col. Hancock said he often looks back on his career path with a bit of awe at the amount of luck it took -- and hard work -- to become the vice commander of an Air Force Reserve base so close to where he grew up.

After graduating from Monson High School, and two years at American International College, Col. Hancock attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He said his career path wasn't clear until he went to an air show with his twin brother, who was in the Air Force at the time and stationed in Plattsburgh, N.Y. -- working on KC-135s.

The air show inspired the younger Col. Hancock to become a pilot: He returned to UMass with a renewed sense of purpose of what he wanted to become; he signed up for the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program at his school.

"They told me they could give me a full scholarship to become an Air Force officer, but that it wouldn't be in a pilot position," Col. Hancock recalled the interview from more than three decades earlier. "I told them, 'Keep the scholarship;' I worked jobs, including one at a gas station, and paid my way through college so that I could apply for a pilot position."

Roughly two years later, Col. Hancock successfully completed the AFROTC program. Next, he set his sights on Air Force pilot training and earned a spot. After completing a military-pilot course, Col. Hancock said he was stationed at the same KC-135 unit in Plattsburgh, N.Y., where his brother had served, and where he had gone to see the air show years earlier.

"When I got my first assignment, I called my twin brother and asked him: 'What was the tail number of the plane you worked on?'" Col. Hancock recalled. His brother was out of the military by then, after serving for four years, and his older sibling by seconds had to think for a few. It had been a handful of years, after all, since he was the crew chief responsible for the readiness of a KC-135.

Col. Hancock said he was surprised when his brother finally answered him. "He told me the tail number -- and it turned out to be the same plane that I was assigned to fly."

Col. Hancock's next question to his brother was strictly business. "I asked him: 'Are you sure you kept this thing in ship-shape condition?'" Col. Hancock quipped, many years after the fact. "He said, 'Sure. Sure -- of course!'"

After serving for more than 6 years in the active-duty Air Force, Col. Hancock decided to become a Reservist. He arrived at Westover in 1992, returning to the Pioneer Valley as a pilot flying out of the same base he was once so keenly aware of as a kid.
But now he was on the inside.

After serving at Westover as a pilot for several years, and working as a commercial airline pilot, as well, Col. Hancock said he was ready for a change.

Unbeknownst to him, that change was already in the making.

Years earlier, Col. Hancock said he received a call from an old college buddy. "Both of us graduated from UMass AFROTC together and we stayed in contact," Col. Hancock said. "He called me up and said, 'Hey, I'm looking for a pilot job in the Reserves.'" Col. Hancock helped, and his friend was quickly hired because of the high demand for qualified pilots.
Years later, Col. Hancock said his old college buddy returned the favor. "He called me up and said: 'Hey, UPS is hiring."

UPS offered Col. Hancock a job shortly after he applied, and he said he signed up immediately. The fact that he had experience flying the largest military transport jet at the time he was hired by UPS -- a freight-transport company -- was no coincidence.

"That was an incentive for them: They like guys flying large jets world-wide because that's what they do--so, it definitely helped," he said.

The typical flying schedule at UPS is no cake walk: In some ways, it presented challenges that Col. Hancock said he hadn't experienced while flying for the reserves. For instance, training flights, which in large part are responsible for the military's track record for safety, didn't require him to have long stays away from home.
Not so at UPS.

"It's actually more time away from home," Col. Hancock said of the long-stretches he has on the proverbial road with his UPS job. "Two weeks on and two weeks off is a typical flying schedule at UPS."

Col. Hancock, who lives in Connecticut with his wife and has a son at UMass and daughter in high school, said he relies heavily on his wife's support of both his military and civilian careers.

"Basically, she's the house commander," he said about his wife, who also has a full-time aviation career as a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines. "Both our schedules are 'up in the air,' and we sit down at the coffee table each month and try to match our schedules up and figure out when we are going to be on the ground--and the truth is it's challenging"

Col. Hancock said with his wife's support, they've been able to face the challenge. "While we may go in different directions in the sky, we always overcome the challenges our flying schedule presents each month, and I could not do what I do without her support," he said.

For Col. Hancock, it would seem that the reward for hard work -- when you're living your dream as a pilot -- is just more hard work. But some dreams do come to an end.

At 51, Col. Hancock admits his ride in the military, all the hard work he's put into a 29-year career, is so close to ending that he can taste it. He said the maximum amount of time that an Air Force Reserve colonel can serve is 30 years.

What the future holds? More hard work at living his dream, Col. Hancock said, confessing that he won't complain if he rises from the position of first officer to being the captain of a 747 for UPS. Sure it's a lesser rank in name than the rank he currently holds in the military reserves, but it represents a high mark in that world.

"Since mandatory retirement in the airline industry is 65 -- I have time," Col. Hancock said, adding that he didn't know it when he was growing up in Ludlow, but he much prefers flying cargo to passengers.

"Freight is much nicer because you don't have to deal with all the scheduling hassles of passenger airlines," he said. "And, besides, boxes don't complain."