Misawa weather warriors prove invaluable during Red Flag- Alaska
By Airman 1st Class Sadie Colbert, 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 21, 2017
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Two weather forecasters from Misawa Air Base, Japan, were responsible for advising 100 pilots flying 86 aircraft and more than 1,500 personnel for the entirety of Red Flag-Alaska 17-2.
“It was intimidating at first,” said Senior Airman Joseph Goebel, a 35th Operations Support Squadron weather forecaster. “We led the weather shop during one of the largest exercises in the Air Force.”
At the forefront, Airman 1st Class Anthony Ohara, also a 35th OSS weather forecaster, worked long hours along with Goebel during the expansive exercise, ensuring pilots safely executed their missions.
“I had to get used to the time zone, different work schedule and work procedures, which was challenging at first, but after being [in Alaska] for two months and participating in two exercises prior, I felt prepared for RF-A,” Ohara explained.
Ohara added one of the difficult walls he faced was when he would get multiple pilots coming into their office asking for more weather updates because of thunderstorms.
“Whenever my forecast is the deciding factor whether the pilots can fly or not—that’s when my job gets really complicated,” Ohara said. “We must have the sharpest situational awareness so we can find a window of clear weather for the pilots to take-off.”
Goebel agreed thunderstorms were the most complicated to deal with in Alaska.
“Trying to pin point when the storms hit and their precise location was difficult sometimes,” Goebel said. “Pilots can’t take-off when a storm is present. If they get struck by lightning they are going down.”
During RF-A, the duo not only supported other U.S. Air Force bases, like Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson out of Alaska, but also the Royal Thai Air Force, Republic of Korea Air Force, Royal Danish Army, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and many other nations, by providing pilots with up-to-date forecasts.
“One of us arrived at the office around 2 a.m. every day to prepare for the forecasts,” Goebel said. “The other nations relied [solely] on us for climate projections, also known as products.”
With the weight of a large multilateral force exercise on their shoulders, they still persevered and delivered the best possible service by ensuring all pilots received the training they needed with minimal delay. Their combined coordination accomplished the Pacific Air Forces’ role in delivering rapid and precise air, space and cyberspace capabilities to protect and defend the United States, its territories and allies with joint air power in the Indo-Asia-Pacific theater.
Goebel said, while working here, he saw how weather can affect other aircraft. The F-16 Fighting Falcons rely on weather predictions to take-off, but for other aircraft, like the A-10 Thunderbolt II, ground climate details are vital throughout their sorties.
“As A-10 players we have to know what’s on the ground so we can put weapons on targets,” said Lt. Col. Greg Stack, the 25th Fighter Squadron director of operations out of Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea. “Having weather’s insight enables us to plan our tactics and determine what types of weapons we can deploy.”
Nearing the end of the exercise, both Goebel and Ohara said they appreciated the experience gained from RF-A. They also realized how well-prepared Misawa made them to be ready for and adapt to any scenario.
“One thing I improved on while I was here was my weather observation skills,” Ohara said. “This area [Alaska] is very limited in terms of obtaining data so all I could rely on was my ability to forecast the weather based on my examinations outside.”
Goebel said Alaska’s weather, which they described as calm and easily predictable, is nothing compared to Misawa’s either snowy or foggy weather, which often makes their job harder, but he knows the experience gained from RF-A will be useful for Misawa’s snowfall and whiteout conditions, giving him the ability to provide greater quality forecasts in the future.
“I am used to dealing with Misawa weather, but during Red Flag-Alaska I’ve taken my training from Misawa and branched out so I could provide different products,” Goebel added. “I had to use limited data forecasting because there were no sensors in the area we were predicting for, so I used the surrounding weather data to forecast.”
Ohara said even when it’s sunny outside there’s no guarantee it will stay that way.
“We have to generate the most accurate forecasts to provide maximum situational awareness and assist in the decision-making,” Ohara added. “Weather is predicable to an extent and can either make or break the success of a training mission. From jets taking to the air to landing; ensuring the pilots come home safe is our mission and we take it very seriously.”