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Weather Flight first to tackle hurricane season, last to go home

  • Published
  • By Airman Rhett Isbell
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Watching the sun slip below the horizon, Airman 1st Class Jacob Phipps, 19th Operations Support Squadron weather apprentice, begins his nightlong vigil.

Acting as the eyes on the sky, Phipps directly participated in the relief efforts of Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria by providing Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. with the weather information its members needed to stay safe.

The weather flights area of responsibility is around the Gulf of Mexico. Once a tropical storm or hurricane is charted for that area, they begin notifying base leadership, including the base commander, about its presence and potential threat.

“Our mission is to create timely, accurate, weather products for Team Little Rock members” said Staff Sgt. Jason Parsons, 19th OSS NCO in charge of the weather flight. “They use these products as tools to aide them in their mission of Combat Airlift. Sometimes they’ll even come to us directly to receive them because of the urgency of their mission.”

This aspect of the weather flight’s mission was tested when Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma recently struck the southern and eastern coasts. Due to the threats these hurricanes posed, Hulburt Field, Fla., was forced to send aircraft to Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. to protect them from high winds and other severe weather.

“We had a lot of aircraft come in because of the hurricanes and we made sure to give them all of the information they needed to stay safe; both in the air and on the ground,” Phipps said. “The aircrew also frequently radio us in flight to check if there was anything they needed to be aware of as they were coming in.”

Aircrews aren’t the only members of Team Little Rock who are affected by the weather. Multiple squadrons have to be notified when dangerous weather is inbound.

“Explosive ordinance disposal, civil engineer squadron and the child development centers have to be informed of bad or severe weather due to the nature of their missions,” Parsons said. “The security forces squadron also falls under that domain and usually gives us a call to try and keep their military working dogs out of the bad weather.”

Looking back at all of these moving parts and the constant production of products those parts required, members of the weather flight found that they were able to execute their mission properly because of their constant training and the experience gained from the hurricanes both last year and this year.

“The biggest thing is being able to see these storms from a long ways out to give ourselves time to properly prepare for them,” Phipps said. “By the time they get close enough to affect us, we’ve already used the information we have to properly inform base members to help them stay safe.”

This regular testing during the hurricane season has helped to showcase that no matter what kind of weather is thrown at them Team Little Rock members can and will execute their mission effectively.

“We haven’t stumbled once during hurricane season, and we don’t intend to start now,” Phipps said. “Every part of this base had a really big part to play in hurricane relief and I think they feel the same way.”