Keesler instructor trains Iraqi weather forecasters

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jason Lake
  • 321st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Throughout the history of warfare, weather has played a crucial role in determining the outcome of major battles and, in some cases, entire military campaigns.

In the 13th Century, Mongolian invasion plans for Japan were thwarted when their armada was decimated by a massive typhoon in the Sea of Japan. Today, weather still plays a major role in military operations and planning.

For this reason, U.S. Air Force weather advisors have been building up the initial cadre of Iraqi Air Force weather forecasters over the past three years. The training entered a new chapter of self-sufficiency last month when the cadre began teaching 18 new cadets at the Iraqi air force's weather center in Baghdad.

"The instructor has taught the whole course by himself. This is an important step to Iraqi autonomy," said Capt. Debbie Swetland, Iraq Training and Advisory Mission-Air senior weather advisor. "(The cadets) are learning how to exploit the weather to the best of their ability by tailoring forecasts based on specific mission needs. This will help the Iraqi Air Force get planes in the air, keep them in the air and ensure personnel and resources are protected while maintaining air sovereignty."

The six-month course covers weather observation and forecast techniques, satellite systems, atmospheric dynamics, regime-based forecasting and basic equipment set-up, tear-down and maintenance.

"This is the first Iraqi-led military weather school since the fall of Saddam," explained Captain Swetland. "They have not had an active weather program here since 1991. They have had weather forecasters since then, but they weren't always used for forecasting weather... mostly remedial jobs like working in the chow hall."

The captain deployed from Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Staff Sgt. Dan Alexander, a weather instructor from the 335th Training Squadron at Keesler, helped build the curriculum for Iraq's schoolhouse.

Sergeant Alexander, whom the Iraqi airmen call "Alexander the Great," trained one of the Iraqi weather officers back at Keesler before the Iraqi-led program got underway. Then, two months ago, the staff sergeant deployed to Iraq's weather center to help set up the "organic" course taught by the Iraqis.

He still remembers the first time he walked into the Iraqi weather center and saw his old student who is now a lieutenant colonel and full-time weather instructor at the weather center.

"I was greeted with a hug," Sergeant Alexander said. "It was great when the students came to the states to our weather school, but I always wished I could help them set up their own program. Now I'm here being a part of the Iraqis setting it all up. It gives me a sense of closure."

The class of cadets is expected to graduate from the Iraqi-led course this fall. After the cadets finish the new Iraqi-led course, they'll return to the Iraqi air force academy for several months before receiving their commissions and first duty assignments.