Extreme training for extreme meteorologists

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Brady Armistead
  • 720th OSS/OSW
Lightning flashed 20 miles northwest of the pickup zone, or PZ, the sky was pitch black. The sound of a fast moving helicopter grew in intensity as the blacked out MH-47E Chinook approached. 

Over the secure radio net, Tech Sgt. Steve Adams received the "1 minute out" call from the aircraft, and approved it onto the PZ. Through his night vision goggles, he could see the helicopter on its low, final approach to the fast rope site. It flared at the last second, the sound of rotors biting into the air as the helicopter slowed to a hover thirty feet off the ground. Within seconds, the fast rope was kicked from the aircraft and the first man, wearing load carrying equipment, a forty five pound rucksack, and a M4 rifle came down the rope like a fireman on a fire pole. Eleven other team members quickly followed him. As the men hit the ground, they quickly assumed a security circle under the aircraft, facing out ready for any enemy. As soon as the last man was on the ground, the helicopter released the fast rope, tilted forward sharply and disappeared just above the tree tops to the west. From flare to departure, the MH-47E had been over the PZ for less than two minutes. 

This is a snapshot of day nine of Air Force Special Operations Command's Technical and Tactical Training Exercise 06-02, or TTTX, held recently at Fort Campbell, Ky. This 36-day training event was designed to help meet the extensive training requirements of AFSOC's Special Operations Weather Teams. Areas of training included combat swimmer operations, advanced land navigation; Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape refresher; live-fire small unit tactics; and tactical communications just to mention a few. For some of the participants, this was refresher training, but for newly-assigned personnel like Senior Airmen Sean Cory, Kenneth Malawey, and Bradley Johnson, it was all new. These Airmen are recent arrivals at three of the five detachments under the 10th Combat Weather Squadron. This TTTX trained 20 students, including personnel from Air Combat Command and the Air National Guard. 

The training wasn't all about combat tactics, parachute, or helicopter assault operations. Trainees received detailed training on the new MW-31 Upper Air Sounder, the TMQ-53 Tactical Meteorological Observing Set, the MOD III High Resolution Satellite receiver, the Davis Weather Advantage Pro II Weather Station and other unique weather equipment and software. They also received enhanced training on Self Aid and Buddy Care, and briefings on CENTCOM theater weather processes and sensing strategy. They learned the phases of military operations, how to apply weather thresholds and impacts to operations, and about planning weather sensing missions. 

Throughout the exercise, trainees were faced with challenges called "monster mashes." During these monster mashes, students were physically and mentally tested on tasks they had recently received during training. Their first monster mash had them running more than six miles, stopping periodically to perform radio programming, encryption, and checks, while at other times they stopped to perform physical feats, such as carrying full five gallon water cans up and back down a steep hill, or crossing a rope bridge stretched across a river. The mash also included obstacle course stations and an event called "Kim's Game," a memory game meant to challenge an individual's recall ability. TTTX 06-02 culminated with a 3-day field training exercise in which the students executed an Environmental Reconnaissance mission deep in "enemy" territory. The field training exercise scenario had the trainees carrying their weapons, load carrying equipment and fifty pound rucksacks, covering nearly 20 kilometers over the jungle-like terrain of Fort Campbell's training ranges. Special Operations Weather Team personnel are the operationally focused weather "eyes forward" in enemy territory for theater Special Operations Forces, and this field training exercise provided these students the opportunity to perform these critical skills in a realistic setting. 

TTTX introduced and reinforced local unit training and prepares SOWT personnel to attend the Special Tactics Advanced Skills Training, or AST Course run at Hurlburt Field, Fla. SOWT students attending AST and continue building employment techniques, such as helicopter casting (jumping from a low-hovering helicopter into open water) parachuting, small boat operations, and armed vehicle convoy procedures. This phase of AST training is called Operational Readiness Training. SOWT trainees integrate with Combat Control and Pararescue trainees to form into a special tactics team. At the end of ORT, the trainees execute a Full Mission Profile, in which they are alerted, plan, and execute a reconnaissance mission, airfield seizure, and personnel recovery operation as a team. AST offers these Battlefield Airmen specialties the chance to operate together in a dynamic team environment, developing esprit-de-corps and an understanding of what each brings to the current fight in the Global War on Terror. 

At the end of TTTX 06-02, some of the personnel attended the U.S. Army's Air Assault School at Fort Campbell, Ky., where they continued their training in fast rope and rappel operations, and learned to rig and inspect sling load equipment for helicopter movement. Other TTTX students went to the U.S. Army's Military Free Fall Parachutist course in Yuma, Az. There, SOWT members learned to use high performance parachutes, nighttime jumping, and high altitude employment to infiltrate enemy territory. Each of these schools brings a unique skill set to the SOWT community, providing another tool in the tactical tool box for infiltration or extraction from enemy territory. These tools permit SOWT personnel to get into austere, hostile, data denied, or data sparse regions, and provide weather data to fill critical information gaps on the battlefield.
This is some of the extreme training for the nation's most extreme meteorologists. TTTX along with AST and other formal schools put SOWT personnel on similar footing as their Combat Control and Pararescue brethren, and their Army Special Forces and Navy SEAL team counterparts. For more information about Special Operations Weather Teams, please contact AFSOC/A3W at DSN 579-2145, or email AFSOC.A3W@hurlburt.af.mil.