Navy, Air Force to combine weather operations in Europe

By SCOTT SCHONAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 24, 2006

SEMBACH ANNEX, Germany — The Navy is shutting down its weather offices in Europe and sending forecasters to Sembach Annex in Germany to join the Air Force’s 21st Operational Weather Squadron.

Navy and Air Force forecasters will form a joint unit to serve the U.S. European Command’s area of operations, which stretches from the Azores, south into Africa and as far west as Turkey.

The organization — which will make up the Naval Aviation Forecast Detachment and 21st Operational Weather Squadron — will provide meteorological and oceanography data for military units operating in an area six times the size of the continental United States.

The move will save money and eliminate redundant forecasts between the two services.

Although similar changes have had mixed results because of the difference in cultures between the services, Navy Lt. Shawn Gallahar said the move has gone without a hitch.

“Honestly, it’s been very easy,” he said. “They’ve bent over backwards to help us out.”

The Navy is in the midst of closing four weather offices: Sigonella, Sicily; Rota, Spain; Naples, Italy; and Souda Bay, Crete. Combining operations means the Navy will go from nearly 240 people performing or supporting meteorological and oceanography operations in Europe to just 37 people by 2008. The Naval European Meteorology and Oceanography Command in Rota is the largest office of the four. The command once had more than 100 people.

The 21st has nearly 200 people, with the vast majority enlisted.

Although the squadron did not have figures on how much the consolidation would save the military, the Rota command, for example, had an operating budget of around $1.5 million a year, Gallahar said.

Fourteen Navy forecasters will move to Sembach to team up with the 21st, said Gallaher, who transferred from Rota to Sembach last January. Many of the sailors will arrive by the end of the year. A smaller number of “weather observers” will be stationed across the continent.

Forecasting for the entire region will come from a single building at Sembach, a U.S. air base in a rural area northeast of the city of Kaiserslautern. Forecasters — working in shifts to provide 24-hour service — work in a room called “the floor,” where sailors and airmen study meteorological models, satellite imagery and various other weather data to project weather conditions.

Maj. Robert Kraetsch, 21st director of operations, said combining weather forecasting will give military forecasters additional experience that will allow them to help units anywhere in the world, whether they are in the middle of the ocean or the middle of the desert.

“Going into a joint environment,” Kraetsch said, “they’re going to have such a great understanding of the big picture.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Evelyn Michael, an aerographer’s mate attached to the 21st Operational Weather Squadron, runs through a weather forecasting training simulation administered by 2nd Lt. Hsien Tseng, an Air Force meteorologist, on Tuesday. The Navy is in the process of moving its meteorological operations to Sembach Annex in Germany, combining its mission with the Air Force.

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