Forecasters play key role in Long Knife's mission

U.S. Air Force staff weather officers Senior Airmen Marissa Rojas and Christopher Cole calibrate their tactical meteorological observing system March 3 at Forward Operating Base Gamberi.

U.S. Army/1st Lt. Rachel Fikes

LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan — The rhythmic drum beat of rain reverberates through the tactical operations center on Forward Operating Base Gamberi. It’s a few minutes before the morning shift change brief and the key enablers huddle around the massive map of Laghman and Kapisa provinces, Afghanistan. As the staff weather officer approaches the map, the center grows quiet.

Adverse weather over the last few days has halted numerous missions all over Task Force Long Knife’s area of operations. As the weather officer points to different regions on the map, he finally states that the weather should clear out by 10 p.m. A collective sigh of relief is heard in the plywood-constructed facility. Operations will recommence shortly.

Back in the United States, the chance of thunderstorms would cause you to put on a raincoat, grab an umbrella, and perhaps drive more cautiously to work. And if the weather forecaster was wrong, you would just be over dressed and disgruntled. But in the mountainous and rugged terrain of Afghanistan, operations and, more importantly, soldiers’ lives are dependent upon weather.

“We are not like the typical weather forecasters that you see on television. We go more in depth of how weather affects assets. Operations require weather dependent enablers such as close air support, close combat attack, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets. If we were to underestimate an impending storm and make a bad call, the current operation wouldn’t have any assets,” said Air Force Master Sgt. John Gaona, the staff weather officer for Task Force Longknife. “If anyone were to get wounded, medical evacuation wouldn’t be possible either. We would have set them up for complete failure. That’s not something you want to live with.”

Aside from soldiers’ lives, a miscalculation of weather also can severely damage assets such as unmanned aerial vehicles. The Shadow platoon from 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, is dependent on timely and accurate information weather reports in order to launch, fly and land their UAVs safely.

“If we make a bad call, that $800,000 asset is no match for Mother Nature; it will come crashing to the ground,” said Gaona, who has forecasted weather for 21 years, 15 years alongside his Army brethren. He deployed to Laghman Province with Senior Airman Marissa Rojas and Senior Airman Christopher Cole in order to provide Longknife with consistent weather coverage. Having completed four previous tours, his knowledge has been invaluable.

“This is the best team of staff weather officers that I have come into contact with in my 16 years in the Army,” said Maj. Mark Andres, the operations officer for Longknife. “They play a critical role in the success of our daily operations and we are extremely lucky to have them.”

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