Weather technician keeps aircrews, Airmen safe

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Maurice
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Whether it's high winds, lightning, overcast skies or rain, the weather can have a major impact on military operations, especially for units with flying missions.

Weather experts, such as Staff Sgt. Kimberly Cribbs, 386th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron weather technician, are especially vital in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility for this very reason.

"My job is critical to the mission because aircrews cannot take off without a takeoff, en route and landing at multiple locations weather brief," said the West Milford N.J. native deployed from McGuire Air Force Base, N.J. "We also support the entire base with warnings, watches and advisories for wind, visibility (affecting road conditions) and lightning. We not only support the aircrew putting metal in the air, we support all personnel on base and on the Army's Life Support Area adjacent to the base."

As a weather technician, Sergeant Cribbs spends her days briefing aircrews, both Air Force and Army, before each mission to include the weather conditions at takeoff and landing as well as any hazards they may face along the way such as turbulence, icing and thunderstorms within 5,000 feet of their flight level and 25 nautical miles of their flight path. The NCO also coordinates a terminal aerodrome forecast with Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., which supports all USAFCENT bases.

"I issue watches, warnings and advisories on base to notify aircraft operators and base personnel of high winds, dust storms that lower visibility to less than 1,000 meters, lightning within five miles of the base and so on," she said. "I also produce a five-day forecast for the base with sky conditions, any significant weather, high/low temperature, max humidity, visibility, wind direction and speed, solar lunar data and climatology."

Like in most jobs, the six-year Air Force veteran said she faces her fair share of joys and challenges in her career field.

"I enjoy giving accurate information to the pilots so they can get the mission done," she said, "and in the end, most everyone here shows their appreciation for what we do."

"The most challenging aspect of my job is arriving at a new location and trying to get accustomed to the weather trends," she said. "This was my first time trying to forecast the onset and dissipation of dust storms that would bring visibility down to one quarter of a mile or less. This can be very challenging because that will stop all aircraft from taking off or landing here, so the pressure is on."

Serving on her first deployment, Sergeant Cribbs said she wasn't sure what to expect when she first arrived in the AOR.

"I tried not to have too many expectations going into this deployment, so I couldn't be disappointed," she said. "I always heard you leave a deployment with a better image of the Air Force and the mission we support; that part has lived up to its expectations. I now feel that my job has a major impact to the mission."

Sergeant Cribbs said she has enjoyed the experience of working in an aircrew squadron these last five months.

"Working alongside the aircrews, I feel a lot closer to the actual mission," she said. "Also, here I'm taking all manual observations, which means I have to go outside every hour and input an observation whereas back home, we have an FMQ-19 which takes the weather observations and automatically disseminates them. This can be quite difficult with thunderstorms, rain, dust storms, and fog where I have to go outside very often, but I feel like I'm making an impact. There are also quite a few more weather products produced here that I do not do at my home station such as a mission execution forecast, temperature postings, and a set of mission execution forecast charts. At my home station, all weather briefs are done and posted in a system called Global Decision Support System and there isn't much 'face time' with the aircrew."

The single mother of a three-year-old daughter said that while she volunteered to deploy in order to save money and become debt free, she really misses the time lost while away from her child.

"I've enjoyed my deployment so far," she said. "I've managed to keep myself very busy with being the secretary of the Rock Solid 5/6 Council, part of the Diversity Week Committee, taking cultural trips when possible, and hitting up the gym just about every day because I cannot do that at home. But it has also been extremely difficult being away from my daughter, Abigail. It was especially hard missing her first Christmas in which she really got into the spirit and understanding about Santa Claus."

With just a few weeks left in the AOR, Sergeant Cribbs said she is excited about the reunion with her daughter, but she will look back on her first deployment with fond memories.

"This has been a great experience that I will never forget," she said. "I've met some great people and formed some good friendships. I'm thankful for the opportunity."