MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Southern California has recently been reminded about the challenges that come with heavy rains after suffering an intense drought. Rain has brought difficulties that haven’t been experienced since the state was gripped in dry weather conditions starting in April 2011. Suddenly the daily commute is a bit more difficult.
If you think traffic is challenging in the return of wet weather, think about challenges faced by Marines conducting military operations in similar conditions. A routine patrol could become mired with heavy equipment getting stuck in the mud and visibility becoming greatly diminished because of clouds, wind and precipitation.
Meteorological and oceanographic analysts of Battle Space and Surveillance Company, 1st Intelligence Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group assist Marine commanders by mitigating challenges presented by weather patterns, lunar cycles and tides during planning for military operations and training.
“METOC forecasters provide weather forecasts and operational impact analysis whenever I MEF requires it,” said Lance Cpl. George Fong, a METOC forecaster with the company. “Our job is to provide early warning for any inclement weather that can adversely affect operations which can be anything from thunderstorms, fog, elevated sea state or low illumination. We create products ranging from weather forecasts, climatology briefs, impact analysis and surf forecasts to brief the commanders on a daily basis about weather in the area of operations.”
METOC Marines gather all this weather information data and brief commanders, influencing their decisions while tasking Marines in air, sea or ground operations.
“There is nothing better than when a MEF commander, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force commander or Marine Expeditionary Unit commander compliments you on your brief,” said Chief Warrant Officer Dante Rakestraw, meteorological and oceanographic officer with the company. “When they say,‘hey that was a great forecast you gave yesterday, we were able to get those planes up in the air.’ That is when people in the room begin to realize, ‘oh wow that’s what METOC provides to the mission.’”
Marines are certified as METOC forecasters, Military Occupational Specialty 6842, upon finishing their year-long coursework at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., allowing them to perform weather forecasting duties in garrison.
“We go through a rigorous course with ten hours a day in classroom and additional training alongside our Air Force and Navy counterparts,” said Fong, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y. “We are taught the basics of weather forecasting, satellite and upper-air interpretation, atmospheric dynamics and model analysis among other things. After graduating the Air Force portion of the curriculum then we go through a secondary course for Marines where we learn Marine-specific capabilities.”
Once a week, METOC Marines with the company perform a 24-hour exercise where the Marines practice using an automated weather operating system, a portable weather station the Marines use on deployment to observe cloud conditions, temperature, visibility, dew points, wind speed and lightning detection. A training and readiness requirement, the Marines must undergo 30 24-hour exercises to become certified as METOC observers.
“We split the training into two 12-hour shifts where we do hourly weather observations to earn the qualification we need that will allow us to deploy in support of I MEF, said Cpl. Timothy Brooks, a METOC forecaster with the company.
After completing the AWOS training hours needed, Marines become METOC Observers, MOS 6821, qualifying them to perform their forecasting duties while forward deployed.
“Qualification for deployable Marines are divided into two parts: METOC Surface Observer (MSO) and Apprentice Meteorological Analysis Forecaster (AMAF),” said Fong, a graduate of Franklin D. Roosevelt High School.
“Between online courses and practical application, MSO takes a total of 180 hours, while AMAF take 375 hours. After completing all the required courses Marines must conduct a board where they must demonstrate total job proficiency. After passing the board those Marines are qualified for deployment.”
The training is extensive due to the level of responsibility METOC Marines have distributing weather information to unit commanders.
“The Marines need to understand how important they are to the mission,” said Rakestraw, a native of Fredericksburg, Va. “The Marines need to take every observation seriously because their readings are viewed from the commanders all the way up the chain-of-command to determine how to execute operations.”
As I MEF continues to stay ready to fight globally, the METOC Marines stay prepared to use their weather forecasting skills to aid commanders in their strategy to win the battle.