ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
To fly or not to fly? That daily decision is determined by the 78th Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.
“Sometimes a staff sergeant is placed in an uncomfortable position where they have to say no to a lieutenant colonel who wants to get in some flying time,” said Roddy Nixon, Jr., 78th OSS, senior meteorological technician and training officer. “The pilot’s safety is in their hands. The weather forecaster on duty has to have enough personality and strength to tell them the conditions are not ideal for going up.”
Nixon has been training members of the weather flight for nearly 40 years. He said there is a lot of responsibility placed on the Airmen who, on average, are 20-years-old.
The weather flight consists of 11 active duty and civilian members.
“I like the fact that there is no typical day,” said Staff Sgt. Brenden Howley, 78th OSS weather craftsman. “It’s nice being a part of the mission by getting to talk to the pilots and aircrew before they take off. It gives me job satisfaction because my work helps them do theirs.”
The flight team’s daily goal is to deliver timely, accurate, and relevant weather information around the clock.
The Airmen produce forecasts and weather assessments for aviation. That data is used in the planning and execution of military missions.
“We provide support for the installation and the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System team, which has a global platform,” said Master Sgt. Ruston Gonzales, 78th OSS flight chief. “Our forecasters are not just subject-matter experts on Georgia conditions. In a matter of minutes, they must be capable of switching focus and having that same level of knowledge about Asia, the Middle East, Central America or wherever the JSTARS mission scope could take place.”
When attention is on the base, severe weather is a major concern. Conditions like tornadoes, thunderstorms, flash floods and damaging high-winds become a potential enemy.
In the event of a hazardous storm, the flight’s Severe Weather Action Team jumps into action. The five person team will help monitor the storm system until it is no longer a threat or sound the sirens.
“We have $8 billion in assets to protect, as well as trying to save lives should a situation turn dangerous,” said Nixon. “We have to stay vigilant and make sure everyone can react in a timely fashion so aircraft can be tied down and people can seek shelter.”
According to Nixon, when a weather forecaster is on duty during extreme conditions, that person is the fourth most powerful person on base.
“The Robins installation commander and vice commander, the Air Logistics Complex commander, and my weather forecasters are the only people with the authority to close the base,” said Nixon. “If certain warnings are issued the installation shuts down because of shelter in place protocols.”
The flight is also focusing on the future needs of the installation.
“We are working with the 78th Civil Engineer Squadron to get proper statistics so we will know how much rainfall starts flooding the base,” said Gonzales. “The JSTARS side of the runway easily floods with heavy rainfall because it is near the swamp. We need to know how that water is impacting our aging infrastructure.”
Gonzales said it will take at least five years to complete the study.
In meantime, the daily duties of watching the sky and weather monitors continues.
“The only absolute in meteorology is sunrise and sunset. Everything else is a variable. We are just as vigilant and as busy on a day when things are cool, calm and collected as when trouble is brewing in the tropics,” said Nixon.
The weather flight will observe Severe Weather Awareness Week Feb. 1- 5.
The emphasis is on preparedness.
Potentially life-saving information will be shared each day on the Robins Air Force Base Facebook page about what to do in the event of inclement weather and the best way to be alerted about storms.