Tactical observing class helps Airmen develop skills

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  • By 25th Operational Weather Squadron
Five forecasters from the 25th Operational Weather Squadron here emerged off the operations floor and into the Arizona heat. Their objective: to set up tactical observing equipment for the first time. 

In preparation for new OWS deployment requirements, the 25th OWS recently stood up a tactical observing class to help Airmen develop the skills they need to provide Army support downrange. 

The first portion of the two-week class focused on observing elements and was taught by Dan Geis, a contract trainer that helped develop the curriculum. 

"We actually did one-on-one observer training when we were aligned under the (12th Air Force) for folks who deployed in support of (Air Forces Southern)," Mr. Geis said. "Most of the program was in place, we just had to do some tweaking to accommodate the changes in the new (training manual)." 

"We got lucky for Arizona," said Airman 1st Class Kevin Menkal, a forecaster with the 25th OWS and a student in the class. "On days two and three, we got bombarded by thunderstorms." 

The second half of the course gave students hands-on training with a TMQ-53, iridium kit, Kestrel 4000, and a laser range finder. Having prior Army experience, including three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Tech. Sgt. Tobias Manzanares, a forecaster with the 28th OWS, led the development of comprehensive lesson plans covering tactical equipment and taking observations in a tactical environment. 

"I'm extremely grateful for having the opportunity to stand up this course for our squadron," Sergeant Manzanares said. "It was challenging putting together all the logistics, but in the end, the students got out of it what our team put into it." 

"It was hot," claimed Airman Menkal, "but we set up the TMQ-53 so many times that we were able to do it pretty quickly by the end. 

"Tech. Sgt. Manzanares provided a lot of insight and personal experiences while explaining everything," he added. "He applied a crawl, walk, run teaching philosophy, and we got pretty proficient with the equipment. We were able to troubleshoot the 53 quickly, which is good, considering the number of things that can go wrong." 

The course culminated with a check ride in which the 25th OWS granted its first ever tactical observing certifications to the following Airmen: Staff Sgt. Jonathan Camp, Senior Airman Logan Westlund, Airman 1st Class James Ecker , Airman 1st Class Kevin Menkal and Airman 1st Class William Mingey. 

This certification is a critical piece in preparation for upcoming Army deployments, and the 25th OWS looks forward to building onto the new observer training program.
"Forecasters typically don't have the opportunity to work with observing equipment until after they've left the OWS," said Capt. Timothy Villaran, 25th OWS training flight commander. "Our neighbors from the 355th Weather Flight allowed us to borrow their operational TMQ-53 for the class, and that's huge for our Airmen. They get the chance to get out from behind their workstations, spend time handling the equipment and develop a better understanding of weather by getting the observer's perspective."