With their storm-colored (grey) berets and nearly two years of required specialized training, the Air Force’s Special Operations Weather Team (SOWT) are the commando forecasters for the Department of Defense. Pronounced sow-tee, they are among the first on the ground at some of the most hostile places around the globe, collecting environmental data ahead of major operations for the Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and Delta Force.
In 1917, the U.S. Army Weather Service was created to provide “all the meteorological information needed; and to undertake special investigations in military meteorology and related problems” to American Expeditionary Forces. In 1918, during World War I, they took part in their first combat operations in France. During World War II these “guerrilla weathermen” provided weather intelligence after infiltrating enemy lines; their goal: airlift, drop and strike support.
Starting in 1947, the Air Force took over the weather service with the provision they would continue to provide the Army with meteorological services. Commando weathermen established weather networks and provided forward observations in Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War. Since then they have been part of the initial entry forces behind enemy lines in every conflict. Their weather operations and environmental data observations and analysis have been critical to the success of follow-on forces.
On May 5, 2008, after a rash of weather-related accidents, the Air Force Specialty Code 1WXOS was established. This code formally recognized the commitment of the Special Operations Weather Team to deploy by air, land or sea into hostile and restricted environments.
Among their many job descriptions, Special Operations Weather Team members:
- gather, assess and interpret environmental data
- forecast operational impacts from forward deployed locations
- collect critical weather, ocean, river, snow and terrain data
- assist mission planning
- generate accurate mission-tailored target and route forecasts in support of global special operations
- train joint force members and coalition partners to take and communicate limited weather observations
- conduct environmental special reconnaissance
- collect upper air data
- organize, establish and maintain weather data reporting networks
- determine host nation meteorological capabilities
- train foreign national forces
According to NBC News, Special Operations Weather Team members were “on the ground ahead of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.” Their hard work and dedication also has led to the capture of pirates and assisted in the freeing of hostages. And when humanitarian disasters occur they are on the ground assessing the situation.
As some of the most highly trained military personnel, the “grey beret” are a force to be reckoned with. Until SOWT gives the “all-clear” the mission doesn’t move forward.
Special Operations Weather Team Training:
- Special Operations Weather Selection Course (Lackland, Air Force Base, TX): This two-week course focuses on sports physiology, nutrition, basic exercises, special operations weather history and fundamentals.
- Special Operations Weather Initial Skills Course (Keesler AFB, MS): This 29-week course prepares Air Force special operations weather apprentices. Training includes basic, intermediate, and advanced meteorology, meteorological reports and computer operations. Other topics include: satellite meteorology, weather chart analysis, weather radar, weather products, tropical meteorology, synoptic level analytical meteorology, weather prognosis techniques, forecasting weather elements to include severe weather, synoptic lab, forecasting lab, and a unit on the weather career field and weather equipment. This is the same course, with the inclusion of rigorous fitness progression training, that all Air Force weather apprentices attend and is the core skill of special operations weathermen.
- U.S. Army Airborne School (Fort Benning, GA): Trainees learn the basic parachuting skills required to infiltrate an objective area by static line airdrop in a three-week course.
- U.S. Air Force Basic Survival School (Fairchild AFB, WA): This two and a half-week course teaches basic survival techniques for remote areas. Instruction includes principles, procedures, equipment and techniques, which enable individuals to survive, regardless of climatic conditions or unfriendly environments and return home.
- U.S. Air Force Water Survival Training (Fairchild AFB, WA): This two-day course teaches principles, procedures, techniques, and equipment that enhance their ability to survive in a water environment and assist in their safe recovery and return to friendly control.
- U.S. Air Force Underwater Egress Training (Fairchild AFB, WA): This two-day course teaches the principles, procedures, and techniques necessary to successfully egress from a sinking aircraft. Training requires personnel to actually experience water entry and to perform underwater egress.
- Special Operations Weather Apprentice Course (Pope AFB, NC): This 13-week course provides final special operations weather qualifications. Training includes physical training, austere weather operations, tactical weather observations, small unit tactics, land navigation, communications, demolitions, and field operations including parachuting. At the completion of this course, each graduate is awarded their 3-skill level (journeymen), gray beret and SOWT crest.
- Special Tactics Advanced Skills Training (Hurlburt Field, FL): This 12-month program for newly assigned special operations weathermen produces mission-ready operators for the Air Force and U.S. Special Operations Command. This course focuses on initial skills, core tasks, and operational readiness training to test the trainee’s personal limits through demanding mental and physical training.