These Troops Go Behind Enemy Lines to Check the Weather

Air Force's combat weathermen can make or break a critical mission
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 9, 2015 3:30 PM CST
These Troops Go Behind Enemy Lines to Check the Weather
Special Operations Weather Team Airmen are Air Force meteorologists with unique training to operate in hostile or denied territory.   (Air Force Special Operations Command)

Before US special operations forces raided the Pakistani compound where Osama bin Laden was hiding out in 2011, there was likely at least one other type of specialist with boots on the ground: a weatherman. The Air Force's SOWTs—special operations weather technicians—are some of the military's least-recognized tools, with members sent out to infiltrate enemy lines (where weather reports from the ground can often be scarce) and tap into their meteorology training to gauge climate conditions for their commanders, NBC News reports. These Grey Berets not only predict if the weather is amenable to launching an attack (unmanned aircraft and low-flying choppers have to be especially careful in bad weather); they also use the weather to their advantage, perhaps using mountain dew to erase tracks, or wind to dampen the sounds of a chopper, NBC explains. "We're human sensors," SOWT Jonathan Sawtelle tells NBC.

A persistent issue for SOWTs is not being taken seriously by colleagues, an attitude that riles environmental mercenaries. "In special operations, most of the failures have weather as a causal effect," an ex-director of environmental services for Joint Special Operations Command tells NBC. And training for this role is brutal—including getting kicked in the ribs by instructors and sprayed with water during exercises to trigger drowning fears—and requires a minimum intelligence-test score that's higher than that of nearly every other role in the military. As NBC puts it, recruits are "warriors first, meteorologists second." One SOWT compares it to high school, with other special-ops troops as the starting QBs and homecoming kings, and military meteorologists "kind of like the valedictorians. ... We've got the 4.0 grade point average, but we can play a little, too." (Read the entire story about this fascinating military career.)

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