CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan -- Marines can’t change the weather. Fortunately, there are a few in Afghanistan who can forecast it.
“The weather can change in an instant out here,” said Maj. Robert B. Finneran, a senior watch officer with 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). “METOC gives us as early a means as possible to make sure our missions are carried out safely.”
Sgt. Zachary M. Salter and Cpl. Justien L. Owen are meteorological and oceanographic analysts with the Marine Air Control Squadron 2 detachment at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C.
Their occupation field, commonly referred to as METOC, holds the responsibility for collecting and assessing weather-related information. As both Marines currently serve in Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, the data they collect is used to help coalition forces in planning and carrying out operations against insurgent forces.
“We observe the weather hourly and set warnings and advisories for all the units on Camp Dwyer,” said Salter, a native of Pensacola, Fla. “We also forecast for any severe weather conditions such as thunderstorms and sandstorms.”
“There’s not a lot on The Weather Channel for the Helmand province area,” said Finneran. “The METOC Marines are my sole source of weather information.”
Along with making hourly weather observations, METOC Marines provide both pilots and ground troops with 24-hour forecasts every six hours, and a 96-hour forecast every day. These forecasts are considered during the planning phases for every operation.
“There have been many times where we were able to prevent aircraft and pilots from getting stuck out in sandstorms due to a METOC forecast,” said Finneran, who also serves the Marine Corps as an AH-1W Cobra pilot. “We wouldn’t be able to do that without the information they provide.”
The forecasts and advisories METOC Marines offer can prove critical to the operations they support, Salter said. The weather briefs they provide let both pilots and ground force commanders know what kind of weather they can expect as they depart base, throughout a mission and upon return.
“Severe weather can be extremely dangerous for any aircraft and ground troops,” Salter said. “If the visibility is reduced pilots in the air would not be able to land their aircraft and the Marines on the ground might not be able to see the insurgents in front of them.”
Owen said she has seen firsthand where forecasting the weather accurately can mean survival for coalition troops.
“The most stressful part of this job for me is when there is a sandstorm and a MEDEVAC needs to take off, but the visibility is at zero,” said Owen, a native of Tucson, Ariz. “I know there is somebody who is really hurt and that the pilots are depending on me to tell them the visibility has gone up so they can go and save someone’s life.”