181st Special Ops Weather Flight - Mild mannered or 'thrill junkies

  • Published
  • By U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert
  • 136th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
A weatherman is a meteorologist who forecasts weather based on atmospheric and meteorological conditions. One might watch them on television forecasting on the nightly news in a nice air-conditioned environment; but not our Special Operations Weather Team (SOWT) members. They are battle-trained, combat ready meteorologists jumping out of aircraft and operating under austere conditions, self sustaining for extended periods of time. "This job gives me an adrenaline rush (jumping out of aircraft)," said Senior Master Sgt. John Hawkins, 181st Special Operations Weather Flight (SOWF), superintendent and qualified jumpmaster. "We've become trained 'thrill junkies'. We like it because it is exhilarating and it is a part of us now." Hawkins, a prior Soldier, joined the 136th Airlift Wing with 12 years of jump experience and 50 plus jumps under his belt. He is a seasoned jumper along with the rest of his teammates. Some are former Soldiers and Marines who are qualified jumpmasters, Marine reconnaissance specialists and civilian qualified emergency medical technicians (EMT). On Aug. 26, 2011, the SOWT arrived before dawn to participate in a tactical exercise using organic (in-house) airlift and ground support with the exception of two Texas Army National Guard parachute riggers. Ground support included a drop zone control officer, in-house medical (EMT), and 181st Airlift Squadron aircrew. "This tactical exercise is a first of its kind and the beginning of new a normality. A historical event for the Wing!" said Lt. Col. Scott Morris, 181 SOWF, commander. Typically, the tactical exercise or real-world scenarios are supported by numerous outside entities from our sister Services and the Army National Guard. The aircraft was airborne by 1100 hours; on board were the trained 'thrill junkies' ready to do another static line jump. Each sat in their seat, fully geared with combat equipment weighing more than 100 pounds. Sweat poured from their faces as they anticipated their jump while waiting for the aircraft to reach the desired altitude. "One minute!" yelled Hawkins, the acting jumpmaster, as he directed the first three jumpers to the move towards the open ramp of the C-130. He double checks their static lines ensuring proper attachment and their gear securely in place. "30 seconds!" Hawkins yelled loudly; a preparatory call that gives his team time to mentally and physically prepare to jump out of the aircraft. Hawkins yells a final time, "Stand By!" This was the queue for the first jumper to start moving towards the edge of the ramp waiting for the green light from the Navigator to egress the aircraft. The final moment of exhilaration, the green light...each jumper took his queue and took the final step that kept them grounded to the aircraft; no more metal, no more hum of the C-130 engines, just wind. One, two, three, in a matter of seconds they were all airborne with nothing but the sky and a parachute that kept them from plummeting down onto the earth. The medics were the first to jump out of the C-130 and feel the rapid rush wind. With more than 100 pounds of combat gear strapped to their bodies, the SOWT members lunged from the aircraft. They glided to the ground with ease; another successful jump. A SOWT specialist is qualified in many aspects of special operations including the use of demolitions to create or remove mission hindering obstacles and to tactically prepare combat sites. The SOWT also engage in other activities from counterterrorism to humanitarian assistance and special reconnaissance to advanced force operations. "Roughly 40% of SOWT Airmen belong to the Air National Guard," said Lt. Col. Morris. "We are privileged to have the elite of the elite in the 136 AW. They are a unique group of men with special qualifications and a special mission." A combat weatherman provides tactical-level intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to enable decision superiority and application of airpower across the full spectrum of military operations. They integrate environmental information into the decision-making process at all levels to mitigate and exploit environmental information on operations to maximize combat power. The 181 SOWF, comprised of all men (as directed by the Secretary of the Air Force) are highly motivated, physically fit, intelligent 'thrill junkies' capable of operating in the six geographic disciplines: mountain, desert, arctic, urban, jungle and water. "They are weather forecasters on 'steroids'," continued Lt. Col. Morris. "Aside from forecasting weather, jumping out of aircraft, and operating under austere conditions, they can also call for aircraft and marshal them in and out on the ground for an engine running on/off load (ERO)." At the conclusion of the operational exercise at Mineral Wells, Texas, the SOWT called for their evacuation. Within the hour a C-130 from the Wing circled high above them and prepared for landing. Once on the ground, Tech. Sgt. James Henderson, 181 SOWT, marshaled the aircraft for an ERO. He signaled the SOWT to enter the open ramp door of the C-130, while he kept watch for any aggressors. All members evacuated safely for another successful mission.