Front-line forecasting not average day on the job

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Gary Emery
  • AFSOC Public Affairs
Slashing through Burmese jungles with Maj. Gen. Orde Wingate’s Chindits; hunkering down far above the demilitarized zone in North Vietnam; infiltrating into Northern Iraq to ensure the success of a thousand-man airborne jump – not the average day at the office for most weather forecasters. 

But, those missions and many more have been business as usual since 1942 for the Air Force special operations weather teams assigned to the 10th Combat Weather Squadron. 

The battle-trained meteorologists of special operations weather have been at the tip of the spear for more than 60 years. They provide combatant commanders with the weather data and analysis they need to plan and execute missions at the tactical, operational and strategic levels of war. 

As elite members of the Air Force Battlefield Airman program, special operations weathermen receive specialized training far beyond that of other meteorologists, said squadron director of operations Maj. Don Shannon. 

“Our guys have first gone through the normal weather training and served in an operational weather squadron before they can volunteer for SOWT,” he said. 

Major Shannon said, “We typically work with special operations forces from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Because of the types of individuals we team with, we undergo much of the specialized training they do, so we can keep up with them in the field.” 

Weather team members are jump-qualified and may hold ratings as military freefall parachutists, air assault specialists, Rangers, combat diver qualifications and more, the major said. 

“We know that when we put out a forecast, someone is going to use it downrange,” said Capt. Don Garrett, the squadron’s assistant director of operations. “We provide the realtime, eyeson, ground truth about conditions that can critically impact the mission. 

“That’s why this is a total volunteer outfit,” he said. “We’re all willing to give it 100 percent every day.” Major Shannon agrees the people are what make the weather teams unique. 

“These people have great attitudes. They’re tough guys who get it done no matter how rough it gets,” he said. 

A “typical” SOWT mission was like that performed by Staff Sgt. Dave Mack. He infiltrated into Iraq with an Army special forces operational detachment alpha team during the early stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They survived 12 missile attacks, one which destroyed their Humvee, and endured almost continuous smallarms attack. At one point, Sergeant Mack provided 36 continuous hours of weather observations so aircraft could evacuate seriously wounded Soldiers from Baghdad. 

“You get so much satisfaction from this mission,” Major Shannon said. “Everyone works together and you affect the mission at every stage, from planning to execution to redeployment.”

Staff Sgt. Jody Ball, a four-year veteran of special operations weather, agrees.

“The combination of the people and the mission is what makes this job so great,” he said. “I work with Rangers, (Army) special forces, (pararescue jumpers), combat controllers -- it’s an elite group.

“It’s much more than you can get working in a regular weather station,” he said. “It’s not your standard workday.”