SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. --
The 15th Operational Weather Squadron has introduced a new scheduling model this year to improve readiness, morale and the ability to train.
Dubbed “Ready Month,” the plan provides the opportunity for one of the squadron’s four operational flights to come off 24/7 operations for a month to focus on specialized deployment training, team and individual resiliency and flight-wide professional development, while still providing an additional stand-by margin of continuous surge capacity to the operations floor when required.
“Resiliency has joined readiness as the two highest priorities for senior leaders and command teams across our Air Force and the Defense Department,” said Lt. Col. Lance Ratterman, 15th OWS commander. “Often times these two priorities can be competing, gains in readiness sometimes come at the expense of resiliency and vice versa.”
Based at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, the 15th OWS began operations in February 1999 and spent most of its first two decades focused on a training-centered mission while providing aircrew weather briefings, airfield forecasts, and weather threat alerts for Defense Department locations across the Northeast United States.
In the last three years, the 15th OWS mission has evolved and expanded to a global scale. The changes include the implementation of a state-of-the-art graphics system, used to identify aviation hazards across the world. Moreover, the squadron has seen a 650% increase in overseas deployments.
“Ready Month affords the Thunderbolts an opportunity to sharpen their forecasting skills and hone their tradecraft for military stations across the world, arming warfighters with actionable intelligence on the current and future state of the natural environment,” said Ratterman.
The Ready Month flight is divided into Base Operations Support teams of three Airmen that practice mission-readiness skills by working in a simulated expeditionary weather flight environment. Each of the BOS teams use the squadron’s virtual reality system to train on weather observing in all seasons at airfields across the globe and complete deployment related tasks in individual protective equipment to prepare for operations in a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive environment.
“The beauty of what the Thunderbolts have developed with Ready Month is in how the concept gets after both priorities in parallel,” Ratterman said. “Investments are made in both bank accounts as our flights step away from our 24/7 ops floor and train on expeditionary skills and build resiliency and connectedness with their teammates. Then they come back to ops at the end of the month with renewed energy for the mission, stronger bonds with one another and our Air Force’s gain is ready and resilient teams.”
The squadron’s alpha flight took part in the first iteration of Ready Month in January.
“During the month, not only did alpha flight accomplish Ready Month’s primary objectives, they exceeded them,” said Ratterman.
While most of alpha flight completed readiness and resiliency training in-garrison, one of the flight BOS teams took it a step further by deploying to Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, to enhance the lethality of the 319th Reconnaissance Wing during increased hostilities in the U.S. Central Command area of operations.
“The deployment gave the BOS team the opportunity to expand their operational experience and gain valuable insight and perspective on the specialized support provided by a base level weather flight as well as integrate with another wing in the 16th Air Force,” said Ratterman.
In addition to providing base operations support, the deployed 15th OWS team got a taste of what operational support to the RQ-4 Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft is like.
“Being at the 15th OWS, you don’t always see how your forecasts affect operations,” said Senior Airman Alexandria Claybrook, 15th OWS weather journeyman and member of the Grand Forks BOS team. “It was rewarding for me to interact with aircrew and see higher ranking personnel, such as the wing commander, receive my direct forecasts and then make mission-impacting decisions.”
The program also presented unique opportunities for alpha flight to grow closer as wingmen by cultivating morale and renewing esprit de corps. Every week the flight gathered outside of the squadron, shared meals together and took part in team building and resiliency activities.
“The trip to Cahokia Mounds (an Illinois State Historic Site) gave our flight the opportunity to step away from the stressors of work, get out of uniform, and connect with each other,” said 1st Lt. Sarah Olsen, 15th OWS flight commander. “This trip also enabled us to learn more about the history of the local community while getting out in nature. Everyone definitely walked away with clearer heads, closer hearts, and tools to stay resilient through challenges to come.”
The first two iterations of Ready Month met the objective to increase mission lethality while enhancing the resilience of the squadron’s Airmen.
However, in March, COVID-19 forced the 15th OWS to pause Ready Month activities as the squadron protects the Thunderbolts and their loved ones from the pandemic while continuing the squadron’s global missions and support to the whole of nation response. When safe conditions allow, Ready Month activities will continue.
“In the first two months of the Ready Month concept, the 15th OWS was able to prepare 39 Airmen for worldwide deployment as 13 BOS Teams,” Ratterman said. “They are excited to restart Ready Month and train the rest of the squadron once the pandemic subsides.”