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Air Force weathermen support the fight

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Gerald Sullivan
  • 19th Expeditionary Weather Squadron commander
When people hear the term "weatherman" they typically think of a person dressed in business attire providing the latest hurricane update or winter storm warning on evening news. The Battlefield Airmen of the 19th Expeditionary Weather Squadron couldn't be further from that image. Dressed in Operation Enduring Freedom camouflage pattern uniforms and embedded in U.S. Army tactical operations centers and joint operations centers, forecasting weather for the 251,772 square miles of battle space in Afghanistan, these Airmen are the face of battlefield weather.

Battlefield Weather Airmen provide timely, accurate and relevant environmental intelligence to conventional Army forces throughout the area of operations. Or in terms that our supported commanders prefer, "will the weather help or hinder our operation tonight?"

This weather squadron is not about, "will it rain on your picnic this weekend?" A recent mission exemplifies just how important battlefield weather is to mission accomplishment. Senior Airman Jessica Wells, from Task Force Attack, received a call requesting a weather observation and forecast to support the launch of a quick reaction force. Two Afghan soldiers had been taken hostage and the Task Force wanted to launch aviation assets to support the recovery mission. Unfortunately, weather wasn't favorable for the Task Force's aviation assets.

According to Task Force Corsair commander, Lt. Col. Jeffery Becker, this did not deter Wells whose "outside the box thinking" led her to contacting his staff weather officer, Senior Airman Artan Myrtolli, who confirmed weather was favorable in his area of operation. The helicopters were launched and not only did the Task Force recover the two Afghan soldiers, but it also detained five insurgents.

Another example of weather impacting a major operation took place during Operation MILLER III. Coalition forces had been out in the operation longer than expected and were quickly running out of supplies. Weather conditions weren't expected to be favorable for the next three days, according to Capt. Justin Puckett, officer in charge of the weather team supporting Combined Joint Task Force - One.

Between Task Force Saber, Division, and the Bronco SWO, we found a four-hour window where weather would allow for an exfiltration of forces. In the end, the forecast was spot on and within 20 minutes of the helos returning to Forward Operating Base Fenty, thunderstorms sparked along the border and the next three days had unfavorable weather for all air assets.

Key to the 19th EWXS' success in supporting Brigade Combat Teams is the Battlefield Weather Overwatch Team, a reach-back center that supports eleven BCTs and two sustainment brigades from a centralized location at Bagram Airfield.

Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Reynolds, BWOT forecaster, told me what they do plays an important part in the war effort and they actually see the results of those efforts every day. Those forecasts factor into a commander's decision to proceed with or cancel an operation. These decisions are crucial whether it's to launch an air infiltration for a kinetic operation or to launch a convoy for a mission through the Salang Tunnel.

In order to provide more current and accurate conditions at the Salang Tunnel, 19th EWXS teamed with the 101st Sustainment Brigade and several Special Operations Weather Team members to install a commercial, off-the-shelf sensor near the south entrance. This effort was a great success and allows the 19th EWXS to estimate the snow pack and conditions along the route in order to provide decision-quality information to sustainment brigade leadership.

Tech. Sgt. Brandon Huth, 19th EWXS NCO in charge at Task Force Corsair, told me the lifestyle of battlefield weather requires them to possess and utilize skills a majority of the Air Force does not ... even if that means changing oil in a generator or installing a floor in a tent, whatever it takes to complete the mission.

In Afghanistan, when you hear forecaster or meteorologist, you won't see business suits or baseball caps; instead you'll get armor-clad Battlefield Weather Airmen, who are just doing, "whatever it takes to get the mission done" and making me very proud to be their commander.