Schoolhouse Spotlight: Initial skills weather course

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Duncan McElroy
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs

(This interview is part of an open-ended series featuring technical school courses at Keesler Air Force Base.)

At the 335th Training Squadron’s Weather Training Complex, Airmen, Sailors, Marines and Coastguardsmen attend the Defense Department’s only initial skills weather course.

The weather course will prepare the students to become weather specialists stationed around the world to help predict weather patterns and prepare forecasts, and also give briefings to pilots and commanders on weather conditions to keep the mission going.

At the beginning of the nearly 8-month-long school, students start downstairs, where they learn the theory behind weather. As they progress, they move upstairs, where the practical, hands-on application takes place.

“During the first part of the course, students learn the basics – what are cold fronts and how do they move, what are jet streams and where do you find them, what is space weather and how can it impact communications,” said Tech. Sgt. Crystal Moses, 335th TRS initial skills weather course instructor. “They progress through stepping stones. First they learn what’s what, and then they come upstairs and apply it to real-world and scenario forecasting.”

Once the students progress upstairs, they apply the theory to practical analysis of graphs and radar, and are given assignments to forecast for bases around the world.

“By the time the students make it up here, they know what base they’re going to be stationed at,” she said. “So we have them forecast for the areas they’ll be, and we’ll also give them scenarios where we know the outcome but they have to work through it step-by-step.”

When the students graduate, they’ll have a broad understanding of weather and how it affects the flying missions of the Air Force and its DOD sister services.

“The course did a really good job of starting off with a small foundation,” said Airman 1st Class Benjamin Keegan, a recent graduate of the initial skills course. “It gives you the facts, and then builds off those. I found it difficult at first, but once I got the hang of forecasting it really piqued my interest in science.”

Keegan, who studied sports medicine in college prior to enlisting, soon found himself studying outside of class.

“I started going outside every day to look at the sky and figuring out how I could relate it to what I learned in class,” he said. “I think it’s pretty awesome that I get to work on something that affects everybody, and I can do it by simply stepping outside and paying attention.”

A large part of the final portion of the course is actual manual observation, Moses added.

“They learn how to go outside and observe,” she explained. “They learn to use visual cues; flags blowing or trees waving for wind direction, noting landmarks to calculate distance and height for cloud coverage – they’ll be required to do between 20 and 25 observations by the end of the course.”

For Moses, who has been an instructor for 3 years and went through the same course as a student in 2006, the manual observation is the biggest difference between her and Keegan’s experiences.

“That was something we had to learn once we were at our first base,” she said. “It’s definitely more beneficial that the students learn some of that here now.”

While the curriculum has mostly stayed the same since Moses went through, another unexpected similarity between her and Keegan’s time at the schoolhouse is how it has shaped them into more effective communicators.

“Since I’ve been here I’ve learned how to mentor and talk to people,” Moses said. “Everyone learns, takes feedback and criticism differently, and instructing here has really given me a lesson on how to speak to individuals.”

Keegan had a similar experience as a red rope; an Airman leadership position within his squadron that was given to him by the military training leaders.

“I’ve learned a lot about different personalities and leadership,” Keegan remarked. “It’s been a great experience learning about myself and how to bounce back from failure, but also how to help others and talk through issues in the schoolhouse and dormitories.”

In addition to working and learning with fellow Airmen, Keegan has also had the unique experience of working side-by-side with service members from different branches.

“Working with the different branches has given me a broader look at the military, and I think that’s going to be really beneficial once I’m out of technical school,” he said. “I’ll know a little bit about how they work, which is great because I may end up working in support of the Army one day since we do all their weather.”

“It’s good that our Airmen get exposed to the different branches and their quirks,” Moses added. “There are small differences, but the experience they get here will help so much once they start briefing pilots from across the military.”

Overall, the initial skills course gives students the building blocks they need for their first base, whether they’re stationed at a weather hub that encompasses large regions or weather flight that focuses on a more concentrated area right around that base.

“I’ve gotten really excited about this job,” Keegan said. “I like telling people about it and sharing what I’ve learned so far. With a course this long you have to invest yourself in it, and I think that’s exactly what I did – and I can definitely say I’m excited to get to my base and start working.”

Editor’s note: Keegan graduated in August 2015 and is headed to a weather flight on Ramstein Air Base, Germany.