Tags: US military | special ops | weathermen | war on terror

Commando Weathermen Again Play Key US Combat Role

By    |   Monday, 09 February 2015 03:51 PM

An old U.S. military mainstay has made a comeback since the "war on terror" began after 9/11: special operations weather technicians (SOWTs) whose job it is to gather weather data for military planning purposes.

Today, before large-scale military operations are conducted, the military checks with SOWTs to see if they can proceed, or if events ranging from sandstorms to torrential rains will make it impossible to conduct a mission.

SOWTs embed with Delta Force, Navy SEALs, and Army Rangers. "American parachutes don't pop until a SOWT gives the all-clear," NBC News reports in a new profile of the group.

When U.S. military planners began preparing for the invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, one huge problem was getting usable weather information. The Taliban considered weather forecasting to be "sorcery" and banned weather reports. So, when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, they fired the approximately 600 professional meteorologists in the country, shelled the Afghan Meteorological Association and torched the nation's climatological archives.

The effect was to create a weather data blind spot. To fix the problem, they U.S. military brought in people like meteorologist Brady Armistead. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Armistead landed together with a team of Air Force combat controllers – commandos trained at seizing airfields and managing air traffic. Within a day, he had crossed miles of desert, scaled a mountain and found himself a ledge to begin work on what became a daily forecast of battlefield weather conditions.

The Air Force  in 2008 quietly created something called "career field 1WXOS," the first official class of commando weathermen.

This has permitted Air Force Special Operations Command to expand recruiting by signing Americans as young as 17 for this field. They are sent into a new two-year training pipeline – the longest in the Department of Defense.

SOWTs were on the ground before the May 2011 raid which killed Osama bin Laden, according to military sources, and their work, much of it classified, has reportedly helped free hostages, catch pirates, and respond to humanitarian disasters.

Overall, their ranks have tripled in recent years, with more growth expected, NBC News reported. "No position in the Air Force is a higher priority for recruiters."

They are trained to jump from tens of thousands of feet at night and hit an "X" on the map. During other operations, they're comfortable flying commercial planes equipped with a cover story to get where they need to be in order to come up with an accurate forecast.

But for all the successes SOWT has achieved in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it was a catastrophic weather-related failure that did more than anything to ensure the program's future.

That event was a July 7, 2007 raid in the Kidal region of Mali by U.S. soldiers bracing for a confrontation with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, a terrorist group operating throughout much of North Africa.

A sudden, massive storm descended on a location where unsuspecting soldiers of the 10th Special Forces Group were encamped. The winds destroyed several tents, killing one soldier (a decorated veteran and a new father from California) and causing two others to suffer brain damage. They were flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for long-term care.

Pentagon officials concluded that a SOWT would have made a difference in preventing the disaster, and on May 5, 2008, the Air Force created a new career field: special operations weather forecasting.

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An old U.S. military mainstay has made a comeback since the "war on terror" began after 9/11: special operations weather technicians (SOWTs) whose job it is to gather weather data for military planning purposes.
US military, special ops, weathermen, war on terror
Monday, 09 February 2015 03:51 PM
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