Career weatherman forecasts retirement after half century of service

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Drew Nystrom
  • U.S. Air Force Reserve Command
In 1958, Dwight D. Eisenhower served as commander-in-chief, the Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants in the "Greatest Game Ever Played," and Lawrence Baker took the Oath of Enlistment to serve in the U.S. Navy. Now, after 50 years of Department of Defense service, Mr. Baker will retire March 2. 

Mr. Baker, head of command weather services at Air Force Reserve Command Headquarters, developed an extensive resume throughout 29 years of civil service and a 21-year enlisted career.

The weather guru has developed an iconic status as the "go-to guy" in the weather arena. Just ask Senior Master Sgt. Charles Smith, the AFRC command weather manager.

"Everywhere we go, whether it's a base, air staff or MAJCOM, everyone knows and has so much respect for Larry and his abilities," said Sergeant Smith.

"When someone calls here with a problem, they don't want to talk to me; they want Larry because they know he has the right answer," he said.

Mr. Baker grew up in Philadelphia in the shadow of Connie Mack Stadium, home to both the Phillies and Athletics major league baseball teams at the time, in Philadelphia. Mr. Baker was heavily influenced by a brother who served in the U.S. Navy Reserves and he enlisted in the sea service June 30, 1958.

After boot camp, Mr. Baker attended a training course in Norman, Okla., and it was there he decided to become an aerographer's mate or weatherman.

"It didn't hurt that the (technical) school for that career was located in Lakehurst, N.J.," said Mr. Baker. "It was only about 50 miles from home."

When Mr. Baker arrived for duty at Lakehurst, airships were very much still in use and presented some unique dangers.

"Once, during a wind storm, an airship was being blown about and sinking as I was leaving the chow hall. The crew began dumping ballast, which were these huge sandbags. Well, here we are dodging sandbags falling out of the sky running for our lives," Mr. Baker said.

His next assignment found the young Sailor serving in Annapolis. Md., working in a seaplane squadron before landing an assignment at the fleet weather center in Yokosuka, Japan. Mr. Baker said, "This assignment was fascinating for a kid who grew up in the concrete jungle of Philly."

Mr. Baker's Navy career continued with assignments to Washington D.C., another stop in Lakehurst, N.J., Hawaii and Norfolk, Va., before his selection for the Navy's Associate Degree Completion Program culminating in a double associate's degree in business management and accounting. His next assignment found Mr. Baker on Guam, an island in the western Pacific Ocean.

It was there, in 1975, that Mr. Baker encountered a weatherman's dream, or perhaps nightmare, as Super Typhoon Pamela, the Pacific Ocean version of a hurricane, struck the tiny island.

"We were in the eye for more than 40 minutes," said Mr. Baker. "A ship in the harbor measured winds up to 168 knots or 193 mph. Eight hours in the eye wall basically just wiped Anderson
AFB slick," he said.

While in Guam, Mr. Baker received a promotion to chief petty officer and then took his final military assignment running a Navy weather detachment at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan. 

After retiring in 1979 and a short stint working for a civilian company, Mr. Baker joined the civil service and became an Air Force weather observer for an active-duty weather squadron employing an all-civilian workforce on the same Guard base he worked at earlier. 

Mr. Baker worked his way up from a weather observer to the official in charge of the detachment in 1987. In 1991, Mr. Baker moved to Air Mobility Command Headquarters, Scott AFB, Ill., and then to Warner Robins, in 1996 to work for the AFRC.

During his 13 years spent here, Mr. Baker also became very involved at the base chapel, where he served as Parish Council member and a lector and eucharistic minister for the Catholic mass. He has also served in an outreach ministry to the sick and shut-in.

"Larry has made a wonderful contribution to the people of the Catholic Parish at Robins and he will always be remembered for his outstanding kindness and support to others," said Chaplain
(Lt. Col.) Thomas Fey, 78th Air Base Wing chaplain.

"Warner Robins is a very cosmopolitan town and I've enjoyed my time here," said Mr. Baker. "I think that comes from the heavy military influence with people having traveled and seen a large portion of the world."

"I've felt honored to provide weather support to my country, its military services and, most particularly, its citizen Airmen, Sailors and Soldiers for the last 29 years," the 50-year weather veteran said.

Mr. Baker's retirement plans call for a strong chance of relaxation in the Michigan area and a 100-percent probability of time with his grandchildren and great grandchildren.