When you think about what goes on in a theater of war, you’ll think of things like the number of troops deployed, the location of friendly bases nearby, and even things like the rations that the soldiers will receive. What isn’t so common to think about is the weather and how it affects the battleground.
Normally, this isn’t an issue for the United States government. How most countries work is that they report on their weather on the ground which is then relayed to countries all over the world for the purpose of getting an idea as to how the conditions are.
The only problem with this setup is that it involves trusting governments to reliably put this information out there. But when the Taliban swept in in 2001 and took control of Afghanistan, weather reports stopped altogether.
The reason for this stoppage is the fact that the Taliban operates under a very strict interpretation of the Koran. This meant that all women would be required to wear a burka. All men must be bearded at all times. Television and movies were outlawed. And lastly, weather reporting was banned.
The reason for this confusing ban is that weather reporting is considered by the Taliban to be a form of sorcery. They doubled down on this belief, in fact, by shelling meteorological centers and forcibly removing weather people from their positions.
The United States has weathermen of its own.
In order to better wage war in Afghanistan and understand the data so that troops could be best protected, the government sent a number of weathermen to the theater of war.
These weathermen are also known as special operations weather technicians or SOWTs. In fact, these are the only commando forecasters that the Department of Defense has in its employment.
These operatives are tasked with visiting the most hostile and dangerous places in the world and then recovering important meteorological data that ground forces can then act upon once they’re brought into duty.
Video: Being a SOWT
Video: Weather & Warfare
These weathermen are not technically combat-oriented soldiers. Instead, they move into these hostile locations and gather their data. This sounds easy, but it’s anything but. If it goes wrong, not only can the operative be captured or killed, but that highly valuable data will be lost forever, compromising any future operations.
These operatives go along with the absolute best in the field. They often team up with Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, and Delta Force.
Before a major operation is going to be conducted, before any boots touch the ground or even get laced up, a SOWT will have to move into the location and give the okay. These truly are the unsung heroes of war, as they’re literally responsible for whether or not an operation will happen.
In one instance, the use of satellite data pointed toward there being totally clear skies in an area of operation. The only thing is that there was no ground data along with that and ground data is just as imperative as is satellite data.
Not only were the former meteorologists fired, not only were all of the meteorological sites turned to rubble but the decades of weather reports there were destroyed as well. Never before or since has there been such a blackout on incredibly simple and useful information. While this has made it more difficult for United States troops to conduct ground operations, this wasn’t the primary reason for everything.
On one occasion, a SOWT was brought to a location that was hazy and indistinct as the result of a substantial sand storm. This weather man risked his life by leaving the helicopter along with a small team of commandos.
While under the cover of night, they scaled a mountain and then dug into a nearby ledge. It was here that the SOWT got to work at obtaining meteorological data. He used a device to study how high in the sky clouds were, sent out weather balloons at night, and used a small device he had with him for all other tasks.
What this special operations weather technician essentially did was create a forecast that operated in real time. He then checked his data with the forecasts that were already made and tweaked the data until it seemed to line up properly. From there, commando teams were able to be dropped into locations with safe weather conditions all thanks to this brave SOWT.
As a matter of fact, it was as a result of this initial operation that the ground invasion of Afghanistan began. As such, the data had to be absolutely precise in order to be considered actionable. These fair consditions that the SOWT were enough for the Joint Chiefs of Staff to move ahead with their operation.
While it is possible to obtain satellite forecasts without ever having to use a real person, these special operations weather technicians humorously liken this process to an eager child on Christmas shaking a box to guess what’s inside. You might come relatively close sometimes, but not enough for the data to be actionable.
Every member of the United States’ military has an important job to do, a reaon strong enough for them to leave their freidns and family for months at a time. What many don’t realize is that there’s quite possibly even more dangerous position in the military that rarely gets spoken about or even acknowledged.
This position is that of a special operations weather technician. Before any boots can touch the dirt, one of these professionals must go in and single-handedly get a hold on the weather fluctuations in the area. Without these brave souls, there would be no boots on the ground and the mission would be lossed before it even started.
by J Hines
Source: Wikipedia, Military.com, USAF Public Affairs, Videos and Intro Excerpt from Nbcnews.com/pages/weathermen