"I know when he left he was super excited about NOAA. He's carrying the torch for not only himself but for the airport and everything we stand for. We're just super proud of him."

LAKELAND — Lakeland native and 2009 George Jenkins High School graduate Kennieth Brewer wore the blue flight suit of an ensign for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Corps as he helped ready another hurricane hunter flight over the weekend for the pilots, scientists and meteorologists based out of Lakeland Linder International Airport.

“I knew I wanted to get into the military and then NOAA came about,” said Brewer, 29, who earned his bachelor's degree in 2014 from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. “I thought that would be a really cool job.”

His first stop after college graduation, though, was as an airport operations and security manager in his hometown at Lakeland Linder, where he helped to attract the NOAA Hurricane Hunter base of operations from MacDill Air Force Base.

“He started with us as an intern and worked his way up the ranks,” said Airport Manager Gene Conrad. “But we knew his heart was someplace else. He wanted to serve in a different capacity — I know when he left he was super excited about NOAA. He's carrying the torch for not only himself but for the airport and everything we stand for. We're just super proud of him.”

At around the same time the NOAA hangar was being built, his application to join the ranks of NOAA's team was accepted and he was sent to training in Vero Beach. He is also working on his master's degree from American Military University, an online program. He expects to finish up both soon.

Brewer's ancestors moved to Lakeland about 120 years ago, becoming an early settler in the area. The family is also made up of many military service members.

“Every male and a lot of females,” Brewer said, a ready grin across his face. “The whole family's pilots, as well.”

Brewer took his first flight out of the Bartow airport with a former U.S. Navy pilot when he was about 7 years old.

“I was bit by the bug,” Brewer laughed. “I immediately knew what I was going to do.”

When reminded that famed Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin took his first flight out of Bartow, too, Brewer said he knew that because his uncle flew in the same squadron as Aldrin.

Like other NOAA pilots before him, he will have to work his way up to the P3 planes that fly through hurricanes or the Gulfstream jets that fly above the storms. Instead, he is starting out small on a twin-engine Otter that does shore surveys and scouts for mammals along the coast. Part of the plane's mission is to spot endangered right whales in shipping channels.

“We can see where right whales are and change the shipping path,” he said, adding that the plane's task is also to map coastlines before and after storms. “With coastal mapping, it gives immediate feedback. It helps the governor and the president allocate resources to the proper area.”

Brewer said he is looking forward to climbing the ranks in Lakeland, where he lives with his wife, Kimberly, the director of education for the Aerospace Center for Excellence — the overseeing organization for Sun 'n Fun.

Kimberly C. Moore can be reached at kmoore@theledger.com or 863-802-7514. Follow her on Twitter at @KMooreTheLedger.