Weathering the storm: a tale of two squadrons

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Tony Richardson
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Contrary to popular belief, not just anyone can be a weather forecaster.

Both the 20th Operations Support Squadron weather flight and the 28th Operational Weather Squadron are responsible for providing critical meteorological information to support the mission.

However, these two valuable players have completely different roles in the big picture.

The 20th OSS weather flight is responsible for monitoring meteorological activity within the local area. Operating at the tactical level, the weather flight coordinates with the weather hub at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., to produce weather forecasts, inclement weather updates and resource protection advisories to support the mission here.

"We are unique in the fact that we have a weather forecaster embedded in each of our flying squadrons," said Capt. David Fischer, 20th OSS weather flight commander. "This allows us to tailor our briefings to our customers (the pilots) in a manner that emphasizes familiarity and accuracy."

Staff Sgt. Donald Blasini, training NCO-in-charge, agrees.

"Our pilots really enjoy the rapport they build with our weather forecasters," he said. "It's kind of like using a good auto mechanic. You trust their judgment and have confidence in their assessments."

The weather hub at Barksdale provides the forecasting for bases in the southeastern region of the United States. Individuals at the bases serve as the forward observers, that is, they ensure the assessments from a geographically-separated cell match the physically-observed weather conditions.

"There are occasions where the only cloud in the sky happens to be in the path of our radar," said Fred Harmon, 20th OSS meteorological technician. "So, a forecast might state that the weather may be mostly cloudy, when the skies are likely to be clear, which would affect mission planning."

The outstanding work by the weather flight has not gone unnoticed. During their recent standardization and evaluation program for weather operations inspection, the team's 98.9 percent score was key to their recognition as the best of the 15 weather flights in Air Combat Command.

"Our counterparts across the base do great work," said Senior Airman Marcela Pineda, 28th Operational Weather Squadron weather forecaster, "but we have a completely different mission."

As a matter of fact, the 28th OWS is essentially fighting in the war from Team Shaw's backyard. Functioning at the operational level, the squadron serves as the weather hub for all bases within the Air Force Central Command area of responsibility. This area includes all forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We produce joint-theater forecasts so all of the commanders across the AOR are providing leaders with the same meteorological information," said Master Sgt. Timothy Harrell, 28th OWS first sergeant. "It's a unique collaborative effort that utilizes meteorological officers all over the theater."

Essentially, whereas the 20th OSS weather flight serves as the meteorological "eyes forward" for Team Shaw, the 28th OWS has eyes forward at all of the locations within the AOR.

"We are essentially deployed in place," Sergeant Harrell explained. "If it wasn't for the Internet and readily-available information, we would all be in the desert. By supporting the warfighters from here, it makes better use of our resources."

As a result of this unique organizational structure, members from sister services sometimes fill temporary duty positions within the hub. Additionally, the 5th Operational Weather Flight, which is mainly comprised of Air Force Reservists, occasionally fills air expeditionary force slots within the squadron.

"They are really helping us support the mission while relieving the workload and ops tempo of other weather flights around the Air Force that would have to deploy here," said Sergeant Harrell.

So the next time you glance at South Carolina's tree-laden skyline, or view the seemingly endless landscape of the AOR, remember that Team Shaw's two weather organizations have got you covered!