Bagram weathermen help supply the fight, win

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Drew Nystrom
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The 455th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron's Weather Flight provides timely and accurate weather forecasts to aircrews. And it's this precision forecasting of weather conditions and trends that allows flight crews to plan critical support missions more effectively, according to Lt. Col. Houston Cantwell, the 455th EOSS commander deployed from Ramstein Air Base, Germany.


"The weather flight here plays a critical role as we supply the fight because as we send aircraft out to do the mission - whether it's dropping supplies or weapons - we need to be able to plan," Colonel Cantwell said. "We have limited air assets here and by accurately knowing what the weather is going to be like in various parts of the country we can optimize the use of airpower and make smarter decisions."

Weather is important to supplying the fight, but is also significant to supporting the fight through close air support, according to Lt. Col. Clinton A. Mixon, the 492nd Fighter Squadron commander.

"Weather is critical to multiple phases of the mission for us," Mixon said.

Weather awareness allows the aircrews to plan out certain aspects of how they fly their formations and actually execute close air support of the warfighter, according to Mixon.

"If an area is covered with clouds we need to know before we take off so it allows us to figure out what we're going to be able to do for the ground commander and pass those words onto him upon initial check-in," he said.

Making a difference

Tech. Sgt. Richard Kienzle, a weather forecaster deployed from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, is one of the Airmen working hard to provide accurate weather information.

The aircrews drop off their schedules for the following day and the weathermen start working on them immediately, Kienzle said. Weather briefings are given in-person or the compiled data can be sent to the flying units. In both cases, detailed information about flight-level winds and potential hazards like thunderstorms, icing and turbulence are given, he said.

"Winds are big challenge here," Kienzle said. "Anybody who's been here for a couple of days can tell you we get 35 to 45 knot winds in the afternoon. That can wreak havoc on supply drops," he said.

"If they don't account for it [high winds] at their flight level and the drop gets blown off-target then it makes life on the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines at the forward operating bases that much harder," Kienzle said. "It means they have to carry all the equipment back to their base that much further."

Helping make sure drops are delivered precisely where they're needed isn't lost on Kienzle. The Eva Beach, Hawaii, native recognizes his contribution to the overall mission.

"I've spoken to a couple of Soldiers who have come through Bagram Airfield," he said. "The re-supply packages are huge for them. It's everything from bullets, food, gas to water. If the weather sucks and the C-130s can't go then they don't get water. They don't get bullets. They don't get food. Just knowing I'm able to help the aircrews make these drops is a pretty cool feeling."

Home station

In addition to accurate supply drops, weather performs an important role in getting aircraft here off the ground and safely back down, according to Mixon.

"Another key area where weather awareness plays a factor is the actual takeoff and landing at home station," Mixon said. "Things that affect us the most here during the summer are the winds. The way the runway is oriented leads to a large crosswind component. That can make the takeoffs and landings here extremely hazardous."

There have been occasions, Mixon said, when fighter squadrons have coordinated with the weather flight and modified takeoff and landing schedules based on the winds.

Another issue is lightning associated with the summer thunderstorms.

"Lightning is a huge hazard to aircraft," Mixon said. "If you think about it, it's loaded with fuel and hanging TNT off the bottom. Those two things don't react well to lightning. So they [the weather flight] are critical for letting us know when that has passed and the mission can continue with getting back out there to support the guys on the ground which is our overall number one mission."