Air Force unit keeps its eyes on Fort Hood's skies

  • Published
  • By Amanda Kim Stairrett
  • Fort Hood Herald
Predicting weather on the battlefield is an integral part of operations and at Fort Hood, those duties are largely in the care of the 3rd Weather Squadron.

The Air Force squadron, commanded by Lt. Col. Michael S. Petrocco, falls under the 3rd Air Support Operations Group. It's a unit whose airmen have a touch of Army green with their Air Force blue.

The group provides air support for ground forces and has had a presence at Fort Hood since the early 1970s.

The squadron aims to be an asset to the Army by providing capabilities it doesn't have, Petrocco said.

The airmen support units across Fort Hood and have a hand in helping III Corps officials plan operations, giving input on how weather will affect the post. This is especially important during storm season when tornadoes and coastal hurricanes are a threat.

Maj. Eugene Wall calls the squadron's airmen "enablers" because they can go anywhere.

The squadron receives new airmen regularly and for some, this is their first taste of working with the Army. The unit is growing and is expected to have 180 airmen by 2010. The squadron is also set to move into a new building on West Fort Hood next month.

These airmen not only train, but deploy with the Army. They, too, help to train their Iraqi counterparts, teaching them how weather can affect the battlefield. Everything from wind to rain to sandstorms can affect unmanned aerial vehicles and weapons systems, especially long-range artillery.

The unit was named the Air Force's No. 1 battlefield weather squadron in 2007.

While the squadron provides essential capabilities to units on the battlefield, the airmen also work closely with civilian workers on West Fort Hood to provide the post with weather information that is better than many television stations.

A 24-hour weather station near Robert Gray Army Airfield provides not only up-to-date information to post officials and the public, but to pilots from units across post. Pilots must get briefings from the station's personnel before every flight.

There are a handful of military regional weather centers in the U.S. and Fort Hood reports to the center in Louisiana. It is from there that the military's issues and warnings will come, much like the National Weather Service will issue bulletins from Dallas.

The Fort Hood station is connected to national services and they share information, said Barry Ortner, a forecaster at the station. He is a former airmen who spent time with the squadron at Fort Hood. Ortner and Shorty Hayward are just two of the civilian employees at the center who work alongside the active duty airmen. They have extensive experience and began in this field when paper charts and analyzing by hand were the norm.

The Air Force has provided weather assistance to the Army since World War II, Ortner said.

Technology has vastly improved over the years and the squadron has the most modern equipment the Air Force has, Walls said. Despite all the high-tech equipment, though, the airmen still rely on "folks like Hayward," he said.