Forecasters afloat support multinational training exercise

  • Published
  • By Capt. Nicholas J. Sabula
  • Combined Joint Task Force 950
Air Force weather teams are used to jointness, providing weather support operations for both the Army and Air Force on land or in the air. However, Joint Task Force Exercise 08-4, a multinational exercise hosted by U.S. Joint Forces Command, would require them to truly go above and beyond -- and out to sea.

As part of a combined joint task force involving more than 15,000 servicemembers from all services and several countries, Airmen are working together with Navy weather forecasters for "Operation Brimstone," July 21-31 along the eastern U.S. coast from Virginia to Florida. Weather is just one of the many flagship command and control support functions utilized in support of the joint task force commander aboard the USS Bataan.

"We're providing weather impacts to the JTF commander so he can have an idea of what operations in the joint operating area might be affected, said Capt. Steve Maile, assistant joint meteorological and oceanographic officer or METOC. "Part of our job is to coordinate one forecast for the joint operations area," said Maile, who serves as the 623rd Air Operations Center weather officer at Hurlbert Field, Fla.

The team has oversight on weather for the air, land, maritime and special operations components operating across a vast area of responsibility. With many facets to the exercise, the joint weather team's different backgrounds provide for training at many levels.

"From the METOC perspective you become a more well-rounded team, with each service bringing different, but complementary skill sets," said Navy Cmdr. Steve Sopko, CJTF 950 joint METOC officer. "The Navy brings a certain set of skills dealing with maritime operations," he said. "On the flip side, the Air Force has more experience with ground operations, since they work more with the Army and special operations."

While the Air Force provides weather support to the Army, Airmen don't often have opportunities to work with the Navy -- especially on a ship.

"It definitely adds a different perspective to work with the Air Force," said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Timothy Manning, fleet forecaster with 2nd Fleet Command. "We go to school with them, but this is my first time deployed with them."

The Air Force, Navy and Marines all attend a nine-month joint weather training school at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.

As the joint team works at the operational level, they maintain the weather "big picture" for the entire joint operating area. They coordinate with the tactical weather teams supporting mission planners and ensure that communication across the joint operating area is consistent and everyone is on the same page.

"I've never done weather at the operational level of war," said Tech Sgt. Philip Mohr, deployed from the 97th Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight at Altus Air Force Base, Okla. "My forecasts contribute to the top echelon of mission planning," he said.

Captain Maile says situational awareness is imperative for helping commanders make decisions on operations.

"The last thing you want is a tactical-level weather team, where someone is briefing 'no-go' weather and we're up here briefing the admiral that everything is good," Captain Maile said. "That's why the coordination piece is so important."

Training as a joint team has left lasting impressions for all involved.

"I learn a lot from my Air Force colleagues -- some different forecasting techniques," Commander Sopko said. "Working with them, I've picked up a few new tricks of the trade so to speak; and I hope I've imparted the same to them."