Tornado event leads to 15th OWS Airmen recognition

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Sara Klobucar
  • 15th Operational Weather Squadron

Staff Sgt. Jacob Lawler and Airman Sophia Boone from the 15th Operational Weather Squadron were recently recognized for their support during the devastating tornado event that happened in Kentucky in December 2021.

Maj. Ricardo Cisneros, 18th Combat Weather Squadron Det. 4 commander, took time to recognize Lawler’s contributions on Jan. 26 and Boone was recognized by Lt. Col. Brian Miller, 15th OWS commander.

The primary mission of 15th OWS is exploitation of environmental intelligence with a focus on understanding impacts of environmental conditions on both blue and red forces.  In addition to this Information Warfare mission, they also provide resource protection for Air Force and Army installations across the northeast U.S. and Alaska.

On Dec. 10-11, 2021, a severe tornado threat was forecasted for western Kentucky within the 15 OWS’s area of responsibility. Lawler was shift supervisor and Boone was the on-duty forecaster for Fort Campbell, Kentucky. They both spent the hours leading up to the event interrogating the data and determined they needed to issue a tornado warning. Boone worked directly with the airfield forecasters at Fort Campbell in collaboration with the Terminal Aerodrome Forecast, hashing out the timing of the warning for the installation.

“We were already tracking the threat for tornadic activity in the area,” Lawler said. “Every additional minute of advance notice could be the difference between life and death.”

While under Lawler’s charge, Boone communicated that she initially “felt overwhelmed.”

“As a new forecaster, I had only been learning how to interrogate severe weather,” Boone said. “That night was one of my first opportunities to apply all the training I had done. Luckily, I had plenty of coworkers who helped carry some of the workload.”

A tornado touched down just north of Fort Campbell and damaged the ground just outside the perimeter fence. The same supercell thunderstorm that produced this tornado traveled over 100 miles from western Tennessee into southern Kentucky, producing multiple tornadoes along the storm path.

“Thanks to the keen skills of Airman Boone and Staff Sgt. Lawler, the advanced warning they provided allowed members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment as well as other U.S. Army units on Fort Campbell to tie down helicopters and shelter in place before the storm hit,” Miller said.  

This event proved to be a difficult tasking for Boone because her family lives in the threat area where she was forecasting.

“I am from Morgantown, Kentucky, just northeast of Fort Campbell,” Boone said. “Watching the tornadoes on radar head straight for where my family and friends live was a fear I have never felt before. I felt helpless, but realized that I was helping more by focusing on the mission. I’m thankful for my coworkers during that time. They checked on me throughout the night and gave me the time to call my parents to make sure they were okay. I feel blessed to be a part of this team.”

The efforts of Lawler, Boone and the members of the 15 OWS safeguarded service members, their families and the aircraft on Fort Campbell.

“I am proud of the entire team for the outstanding work they did during this tornado threat,” Miller said.