Rhinos forecast weather

28 May 2004 | Lance Cpl. Anthony C. Bart

During every combined arms exercise aboard the Combat Center, there are Marines behind the scenes assuring the operations are done safely. In real combat situations, the risks can be substantially higher.

One of the military occupational specialties that holds a large stake in the overall safety of Marines and operations is weather services.

The weather service occupational field is made up of two primary MOSs; weather observer and weather forecaster. It is unique because it is the only earth science-related job in the Marines Corps. The weather service provides meteorological, oceanographic and space environment observations, analysis, climatological information and weather predictions to support combat and training exercises.

Weather observers’ duties include observing, recording, coding, disseminating, retrieving and decoding METOC data. Observers are also trained in preventative maintenance on the computer systems and METOC equipment.

“Weather observers take observations 24/7 when CAX is going on,” said Lance Cpl. Tina L. Carpenter, weather observer, Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, the “Rhinos.” “In our observations we look at the sky condition, visibility, winds, temperature and dew point.  During the [Wet Bulb Globe Temperature Index] season [May 1–Oct. 31], we call the flag conditions for the base and CAX. We assist the forecaster whenever they request it.”

Weather forecasters make the meteorological forecasts—an educated opinion of the future state of the environment—to inform units and aircraft of hazardous situations caused by nature. Forecasters must analyze METOC data to make both short- and long-range forecasts of conditions affecting all elements of an operation.

“The worst things to predict are dependent on the duty station because you will always have local effects that will cause the weather to not follow normal patterns,” said Sgt. Gary Lake, Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, here supporting MWSS-374. “[Aboard the Combat Center], I’ve found that the hardest thing to predict is the wind primarily because of the mountains that surround us here. If we forecast the winds wrong it could severely affect any aircraft’s ability to take off and/or land safely.”

Marines entering this field attend school at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., where they participate in routine weather service functions before training for a designated MOS.

“For observers, we go to school with the Navy and the Air Force and it is fast paced,” said Carpenter. “The hardest part was Marine unique. This block of studies involved everything.”

Observer school is about three months long, and forecasting school is about nine months long.

“Forecasting school is very fast paced, but the atmosphere is a little more relaxed than observer school because as a Marine you have to be a noncommissioned officer to attend,” said Lake. “The hardest part [about forecasting school] is learning all of the different theories and then applying them. It is very enjoyable when you finally get to apply everything you’ve learned and then seeing if your forecast was a good one or if it was out to lunch.”

Upon graduating, the Marine could be stationed at a Marine Corps air station, with a Marine wing support squadron or a Marine Expeditionary Force Weather Support Team.

“If a weather Marine is stationed as a ‘station Marine’ with an air station then that Marine supports all aircraft associated with that airfield and stays in the rear when any deployments come up,” said Lake. “But, if a weather Marine is part of an MWSS [with the exception of MWSS-374 aboard the Combat Center], they are given FAP orders to the air station where they will man the weather office along with all of the ‘station Marines’ until it’s time to deploy.”

When it comes time to deploy the MWSS weather Marines return to their respective units and deploy with that unit.

“If a weather Marine gets assigned to a MEF Weather Support Team then their daily job differs entirely from the rest of the weather community because they will be supporting ground-side operations,” said Lake. “It is highly unlikely that a weather observer will be sent to a MEF Weather Support Team right out of school due to lack of experience. It is even uncommon for a forecaster to be sent there right out of school but it does happen on occasion.”

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