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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The 20th Operational Weather Squadron, which provides detailed forecasts for the Air Force and Army in Japan and South Korea, is relocating from Yokota to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.

Portions of the mission have begun being transferred to the Hickam 17th Operational Weather Squadron. The 20th OWS will take the 17th’s place after a phased transition of core operations and training tasks. Officials said the move, to be complete by June, will save Pacific Air Forces more than $900,000 a year.

“The money savings was a benefit, but that’s not why we did it,” said Lt. Col. Michael Farrar, 20th OWS commander. “The main reason was the efficiency aspect, as well as aligning us better with decision-makers in the theater.

“We wanted to have the critical mass in one location, and it made more sense to do it at Hickam than here,” Farrar said. “We’ll build up a corps of expertise that doesn’t move as frequently. It also co-locates us with PACAF headquarters, the Air Operations Center and the new Kinney Headquarters at Hickam, which aligns us well with the center of gravity in the Pacific.”

The shift is being done in stages to let the 17th OWS train new forecasters and gain greater meteorological knowledge of Japan and South Korea, said Maj. Eric Hilliard, a 5th Air Force spokesman.

Officials said they opted for the 20th OWS moniker because of the unit’s distinguished heritage in the Pacific, with roots dating to World War II.

Until next year’s merger, however, they’ll function as separate squadrons. “They’ll just be taking over more and more of our responsibility as we draw down here,” Farrar added.

Theater analysis, complete with macro-scale weather maps, now is handled by the 17th OWS, he said. Pacific-wide graphics detailing potential flight hazards, such as icing, turbulence and thunderstorms, will move to Hickam later this summer, followed by flight-weather briefings. Base- specific forecasting for installations in Japan and South Korea will go to Hawaii last, he said.

The switch won’t affect Pacific units relying on the data for operational planning, officials said.

“We’ve got a good system in place to facilitate this transition,” Farrar said. “Users will be getting info the same as they always do. They won’t see any difference. We’ve been happy with our partners in Hawaii. We’re working real well together.”

The 20th OWS, part of the 5th Air Force at Yokota since 2001, often shares forecast models and conducts joint exercises with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. Maintaining that tight bond after the move “is the only thing that’s going to be harder to do,” Farrar said. “Everything else will probably be easier in Hawaii.

“It just means we’ll have to put forth extra effort to maintain it. We both get a lot of benefits, so it’ll be well worth it.”

The reconfigured 20th OWS will be tasked with tracking weather affecting all Air Force and Army operations in Pacific Command’s area of responsibility except Alaska. It’ll be slightly smaller than the current two squadrons, saving PACAF 12 positions, according to Farrar.

Some 71 squadron members and families will be affected by the exchange, officials said. The mass exodus from Yokota won’t begin until spring but the Air Force’s standard rotation system means few people actually will join the spliced unit in Hawaii.

Farrar said the last new personnel for his squadron arrived in June and by 2006, just a skeleton crew will remain at Yokota.

“Instead of hail-and-farewell ceremonies, it’s just farewells from here on out,” he added.

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