Born in the Bronx, Sean Stumpf ’07, often watched planes take off and land at nearby LaGuardia Airport.

That childhood fascination sparked a lifelong passion for aviation that fueled his determination to become a pilot. Today, Stumpf is the one doing the takeoffs and landings, but instead of a commercial airliner he flies the C-130J, also known as the Super Hercules, in the United States Air Force (USAF).

The C-130 is one of the most versatile aircraft in the world that has been in service since the ’50s and flies missions supporting every branch of the military as well as various civil organizations operating in austere environments.

In high school, Stumpf played baseball and football but also participated in track and field, primarily running in the 200-meter, 400-meter and 800-meter races and various relays. Stumpf recalls that in his senior year of high school, he experienced competing in the Dome firsthand, an experience that would become familiar to him in front of family and friends while in college.

“I was a state finalist in track and field my senior year of high school. The state finals were in the Dome that year,” says Stumpf, who serves as the chief of safety for the 317th Airlift Wing at Dyess Air Force Base. “My sister was a student at Syracuse University when I got my first taste of the campus and its beauty though,” Stumpf recalled.

Stumpf was in the Dome when the Syracuse University football team crushed Rutgers University in a blowout 42-0 game. The overall experience left an impression on him and years later, when it came time to apply to college, Syracuse was among his top three choices. He says he was looking for a university where he could study aerospace engineering, participate in Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and run track.

Stumpf graduated from Syracuse and accepted a commission in the USAF as a second lieutenant. Most of his first few years were spent going through the training process to become a C-130 pilot. Initially, he served as a navigator on a C-130 but a few short years later he was selected to become a pilot—a dream he had chased since childhood.