Air Force weather personnel keep Army flying

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jeff Lowry
  • Task Force 38 Public Affairs
"Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get," is a quote attributed to Mark Twain. Task Force 38, the United States Forces - Iraq's combat aviation brigade, received its weather predictions from four Airmen in the unit's staff weather office during the unit's deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"Their job is important because pilots are bound by certain regulations - ceilings and visibility - in order to be legal to fly," said Indiana National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 5 Larry Anderson, Indianapolis, the unit's standardization officer and an instructor pilot. The task force's SWO determined what those ceiling and visibility limits were in regards to the weather.

The four-person team worked in the brigade's tactical operations center and monitored the weather. They kept pilots and leaders abreast of the current weather conditions and if those conditions changed from mission to mission.

"Overall they get the job done, and it's great to have them close by in the TOC, especially for the high profile missions," said Anderson, who alluded to one of the Task Force 38's missions of transporting VIPs throughout Iraq.

According to Anderson having the SWO nearby was key due to the changing weather patterns in the desert environment. "If there's a minor change, like in wind direction or velocity that can just seemingly come out of the blue, that can restrict visibility to nothing," said Anderson. "It's a lot harder environment to predict the weather here because of the added factors of dust and sand, and that makes a forecaster's job much harder, and they still do a good a job."

The team's officer in charge, Air Force Capt. Vi Ly, New York City, agreed that desert weather was hard to predict, and he added other elements contributed to these difficulties. "It's a lot harder to forecast the weather here because there are fewer resources at our disposal," said Ly. "So there's less weather data to analyze."

Another SWO team member agreed with Anderson regarding the desert weather, and with Ly regarding resources and data.

"Iraqi weather can definitely pose some challenges - from morning fog, thunderstorms, to dust storms," said Tech Sgt. Mike Adcock, Belton, Mo., a Task Force 38 weather forecaster. "To increase the challenge, forecasters are faced with limited data compared to stateside. Primitive radar, few land observations, and even fewer upper-air observations keep us on the ball, trying to make sure nothing surprises (flight) operations."

Before deploying to Iraq in November, Adcock was stationed in Germany with the 21st Operational Weather Squadron. He noted similarities and differences between forecasting the weather there and here.

"The basics - fronts, high pressure, etc. - are very similar," said Adcock. "However, once you get down to the very small scale, the level impacting flights, things like dust or smoke, present unique challenges."

According to Adcock smoke was usually caused from field fires, burn pits and factory pollution, and he said smoke didn't obey the laws of meteorology. "Trying to predict the time the smoke will end is essentially trying to read the minds of the folks who started the fire," said Adcock.

While the weather team overcame those obstacles and predicted the weather, the SWO members became part of the Task Force 38 team.

"During this deployment, it's been really great working with the Army and learning our customer's' mission," said Adcock. "The family-like atmosphere that I've encountered with Task Force 38 has really made this deployment a great experience in my military career."

Also, according to the team's noncommissioned officer in charge, Tech Sgt. Estefpany Allen, New York City, the four Airmen from different bases around the world, which included Air Force Staff Sgt. Joy Faust, a weather forecaster from Roseville, Calif., the weather office became cohesive and tight knit group. "It's a learning experience because of the different individuals from different units from different bases, so you gain their perspectives," said Allen. "It's been good. The different people all bring new things to the table - different websites and different software - to predict the weather. It just comes together. It works well."

With these four Airmen using their skills and climate expectations, Task Force 38 flight crews were able work with the weather they got and safely execute their aviation missions.