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Weather Airmen provide critical mission impact

Senior Airman Joshua Vanwinkle, 386th Expeditionary Operation Support Squadron weather forecaster, checks over a weather radar at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Jan. 25, 2019. As a weather expert, he utilizes the latest technology to predict weather patterns, prepare forecasts and communicate weather information to commanders and pilots so that every mission goes as planned

Senior Airman Joshua Vanwinkle, 386th Expeditionary Operation Support Squadron weather forecaster, checks over a weather radar at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Jan. 25, 2019. As a weather expert, he utilizes the latest technology to predict weather patterns, prepare forecasts and communicate weather information to commanders and pilots so that every mission goes as planned. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy L. Mosier)

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Predicting something that is ever changing can be a daunting task, especially when that prediction can have a significant impact on a mission.

 

For weather forecasters this is their job, to sift through the countless factors that can change in no time and directly impact the safety of pilots and aircrew.

 

“In a deployed environment we depend on the weather unit to update us on the different weather patterns and how the weather can impact us,” said Capt. James Long, 779th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron aircrew.

 

This type of pressure could be overwhelming to some, but for Senior Airman Joshua Vanwinkle, 386th Expeditionary Operation Support Squadron weather forecaster, this was what he wanted to do.

 

“I knew going in what I was getting into,” Vanwinkle said. “I did a lot of research on the career field and actually spoke to some people from the weather shop when I was at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.”

 

As a weather expert, he utilizes the latest technology to predict weather patterns, prepare forecasts and communicate weather information to commanders and pilots so that every mission goes as planned.

 

“It’s a constant learning experience,” he explained. “You think you know a lot coming out of tech school, but in reality you barely scratch the surface.”

 

In the past, Airmen were sent to operation weather squadrons as a first duty station to learn the ropes. While there, Airmen would spend time focused solely on upgrade training and career development courses. Once those were completed they would move on to working the desk for on the job training, before being released to work a forecast from start to finish, under supervision.

 

But, for Vanwinkle this wasn’t the case.

 

He and his fellow technical school graduates would be the first group to bypass a hub as their first duty station.

 

This opportunity would allow him to learn under the direct supervision of his commander, and start briefing aircrew well earlier than he would have going the traditional route.

 

“With the change, it gave me the skill to be able to pick up on things a lot quicker for my first deployment,” he explained.

 

The 386th Air Expeditionary Wing has been a frequent deployment for many of his leadership, so this provided him with an advantage on what to expect.

 

“They helped me get use to this area for forecasting,” Vanwinkle said with a laugh. “I had never dealt with desert forecasting; at my home station we deal with rain and snow, now we are dealing with dust storms.”

 

Although the weather is vastly different from Vanwinkle’s home station, his focus on maintaining aircrew’s safety remains the same.

 

“Weather is ever-changing, it is not an exact science,” he said. “But, we do our best to put together the best forecast we can.”