3d WS supports Ft. Hood, III Corps

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ryan Callaghan
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
A tablecloth is laid out atop a grassy, scenic hill. The picnic basket is emptied and the food is spread. Sandwiches have been prepared, watermelon sliced, but as the potato salad is served, ominous, dark clouds roll in followed by fat rain drops. A tremendous storm is imminent, and a lovely afternoon is ruined because no one checked the weather. Operation Pleasant Picnic is a failure.

The U.S. Army does not usually host picnics. It does, however, plan its daily air and ground missions with a key similarity to proper picnic planning, by considering the weather first.

The battlefield weather Airmen of the 3d Weather Squadron, a geographically separated unit assigned to Moody Air Force Base, Ga., play the critical role of supplying reliable weather information to the 60,000 Soldiers at Fort Hood, as well as the 19 brigades which fall under the Army's III Corps.

"Our primary focus is to support those units with whatever they need for their weather support requirements, [essentially to] provide them the services they need to complete their mission successfully," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Corey Hummel, former 3d WS commander.

An aircraft maintenance contractor based on and supporting Fort Hood, works with the 3d WS daily to complete their mission.

David McCurry, alternate chief pilot and aviation safety official, said accurate weather information is vital to the mission.

"We have minimum weather requirements to launch our aircraft and having that current weather [report] is crucial to what we do and how we support the warfighter," McCurry said. "They provide us current, daily weather briefings for flights and additional weather warnings and advisories for soldiers we have out there supporting other operations."

"Without a doubt we couldn't do our job without [the 3d WS], period," he added.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ricardo Jimenez, 3d WS unit deployment manager, explained some of the information that goes into a weather support briefing.

"There's a lot of information that they want, ranging from wind strength, visibility, how low the clouds are going to be, icing, or if there will be thunderstorms," he said.

When the Army stages a ground mission, they also need unmanned aerial vehicles for reconnaissance, and support aircraft. Each piece of this triad has different weather limitations. If it's too humid for a UAV, the ground mission is a no-go even though the weather is otherwise fitting.

The 3d WS must tailor their reports to each specific aircraft, in order to meet the comprehensive weather needs for a complete mission.

"We gather a lot of information related to their limitations. Every aircraft has its limitations: the amount of wind it can handle, the amount of icing, or even visibility," said Jimenez. "So once they have all that data, then they can make the decision if they're going to go or not go."

The Army weather support mission parallels Air Force weather support in many ways, but with a key difference: ground units cannot be diverted to avoid weather.

"It's a lot different than when you're supporting the Air Force," said Jimenez. "Then you only have to worry about takeoff and landing weather because the jet can fly above the clouds. The Army is interested in takeoff and ground weather, and if they're going to be able to make it back. That's where we come into play, that's where it gets pretty challenging."

U.S. Army National Guard Capt. Rudy Salcido, operations officer at the Operational Support Airlift Agency's Fort Hood Regional Flight Center (RFC), is one individual who works directly with the 3d WS. The RFC utilizes the C-12 Huron, the C-26 Metroliner and the C-35 Citation to support various VIP and cargo missions across the country.

"The 3d WS have helped us a great deal," he said. "If we didn't have our weather briefings coming to us on a day to day, mission to mission basis, we wouldn't be able to complete the missions as tasked."

"Aviation is inherently dangerous, and the 3d WS helps us reduce those risks by giving us a proper weather brief," he added.

Supplementary to the added challenge that comes with supporting the Army mission, the Airmen must also undergo unique Army-led training to become fully qualified battlefield weather Airmen.

"The training mindset is completely different," Hummel says. "We spend a lot of time out in the field with them exercising, preparing for contingencies and of course we deploy with them as well."

The difference between battlefield weather and standard weather, Jimenez explained, is a plethora of survival skills, such as establishing defensive fighting positions and reading maps, as well as tactical skills like vehicle convoy operations and weapons qualifications.

"Battlefield weather actually goes through more training," he said. "You shoot a variety of weapons from M4 carbine rifle and M9 Beretta pistol all the way to grenade launchers and the M249 light machine gun. You don't get to do that [as a standard weather Airmen], but when you're supporting the Army you get [all of that in] 28 days of tactical training."

Jimenez further asserted that completing this training improves the working relationship between the 3d WS and the Army, and helps to validate the combat capability of the Air Force as a whole.

"I'm glad to have gone through that training," he said. "[This way] the Army doesn't feel like they have to babysit us, because we can take care of our own."

All of their training has been regularly utilized, as the 3d WS has had Airmen continuously deployed since 2003.

"Our mission is to support Army operations, [which means] wherever they go, we go," Jimenez said.

"They're assigned to places all over Afghanistan, from the littlest, tiniest [forward operating bases] to the major bases such as Bagram, Kabul and Khandahar," said Hummel.

Jimenez adds that deployed locations bring unique challenges to the weather forecaster's mission.

"The topography changes," he said. "In Afghanistan you have mountains, and in Iraq you have dust and [the Army] are in it. We try to be as accurate as possible so they can take off, do their mission, and come home safe."

Back at their home station, the Airmen of the 3d WS continue to train for their mission, as they have since 1937.