Soyanara Japan

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Karen Tomasik
  • 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The Yokota community gathered to mark the inactivation of the 20th Operational Weather Squadron during a ceremony April 25.

The event drew guests from across the U.S. military, Japanese Self Defense Forces, 20th OWS members, and the Japan Meteorological Agency - the equivalent of U.S. National Weather Service. Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, U.S. Forces-Japan, Fifth Air Force commander, spoke of the changing Air Force and how the 20th OWS has changed to meet the needs of the Air Force. "Change is hard. Everyone hates change but we are at war and our ability to pick up and change is what we need to do in order to prevail over our enemies," General Wright said. "To the members of the 20th OWS, thank you for your service and for continuing the fight."

The 20th OWS dates back to April 1943, when it was first activated in Egypt. Over the years, the 20th Weather Squadron was based in Indonesia, the Philippines and various locations in Japan, including Tokyo, Nagoya, Fuchu Air Station and finally Yokota AB.

During that time, the unit was inactivated and reactivated multiple times. This ranged from the relocation of the unit, to the divestiture of the Air Weather Service (when control of weather units moved from weather squadrons to local wings) and then re-engineering of the weather career field, that saw most forecasting services centralized within eight theater operational weather squadrons.

For the past six years, the 20th OWS has conducted weather operations for 19 Air Force and Army installations throughout Japan and South Korea. In addition to supporting theater exercises and training missions, the 20th OWS supported several real-world contingencies, including relief missions in Southeast Asia during the aftermath of the devastating tsunami in December 2004.

Throughout the years in Japan, members of the 20th OWS have worked to enhance bilateral cooperation with their Japanese counterparts.

"While we understand the importance of streamlining Air Force operations and operating as efficiently as possible, we will greatly miss our Japanese counterparts," said Maj. David Andrus, former 20th OWS director of operations. "We've forged incredible friendships over our time here that have well-served the U.S. Air Force, Japan Air Self Defense Force, our mutual civilian weather services, and two countries. Throughout our increased friendships and cooperation, we've been able to share greater amounts of weather experience, skill and data. We are truly sad to say good-bye to such outstanding friends and allies."

While the 20th OWS inactivates, the 17th OWS at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, will take on the role of providing weather support and products for the region.

"The 17th OWS has had the benefit of receiving all our training materials, processes and tools so they can continue the same level of support our units have become accustomed to receiving," Major Andrus said. Although members of the 20th OWS are sad to see it go away, some look to the day when it might return.

"The most important thing is that our customers will still receive the quality support they require and deserve from the 17th OWS," said Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Dombek, former 20th OWS superintendent.

"Our unit has been inactivated and reactivated several times since it was formed in 1943, and it wouldn't surprise me if you see some form of the 20th OWS again," he said.

Even junior members of weather see the inactivation of the 20th OWS as a path to other areas of their career.

"I've been in weather for two and a half years and I worked as forecaster primarily for Kunsan Air Base, Korea," said Airman 1st Class Derek Krahn, former 20th OWS forecaster.

"I look at it as a welcome change to work at a base combat weather team. Instead of forecasting for a broad area, I can focus on an area where I am directly located."

Lt. Col. Michael Farrar, former 20th OWS commander assumed command two years ago; at that time, he was told the unit would be inactivated and his goal was to prepare and make the transition as smooth as possible while maintaining day-to-day operations.

"The members of the 20th have been instrumental in meeting four goals set when I arrived," said the Colonel.

The four goals of the Colonel were simple and attainable. They were to continue operations while working to hand them [unit resources] over to the 17th OWS; to improve current operations; to build and improve relationships with their Japanese counterparts; and to take care of each other.

"Every member of the 20th should be proud of the work we've done and the relationships we have built here," Colonel Farrar said.