By Maj. Debbie Magaldi
Air Guard Public Affairs Officer
Protecting equipment from the desert sand was a continuing challenge for the weather forecasters. TSgt. Lowell Ivy, 200th Weather Flight, prepares a forecast with plastic sheeting protecting his computer at their tactical operations center in Kuwait. (Photo courtesy Virginia Air Guard Public Affairs Office)
The 200th Weather Flight is the smallest of the four separate units making up the Virginia Air National Guard. With only 23 people, they account for a mere 1.85 percent of the 1,239-strong VaANG. However, since Sept. 11, 2001, 16 of its 18 qualified members have performed mission-essential duties in support of critical U.S. military contingencies. Since then, these individuals have logged an incredible 4,092 days of active duty - that averages out to 227days/per qualified individual - not counting drill periods and annual training days. They did everything from supporting U.S. ground troops in Iraq to providing management and leadership training for ANG weather personnel nationwide.
Within hours of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, the Weather Flight had equipment and personnel ready to support military activities anywhere in the state. Two members of the unit were mobilized to support Operation Noble Eagle activities, then involuntarily extended for two years in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The Weather Flight provided round-the-clock weather forecasting services and pilot and staff weather briefings for the 192d Fighter Wing’s homeland defense missions for several weeks after Sept. 11, supporting the Wing’s ongoing combat air patrol missions. In addition, the unit provided augmentees for duty in the 192d’s Survival Recovery Center.
In the midst of this the Weather Flight commander became the first Air Guard weather officer to serve as the meteorological task force officer in support of ongoing peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Lt. Col. Robert E. Wallace was the ranking weather officer in country, providing weather support and leadership for the U.S. Army’s 29th Infantry Division and all joint task force units in country from November 2001 through February 2002. In addition, three unit members deployed as part of an Air Force Aerospace Expeditionary Force deployment to Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, to support Operation Southern Watch.
Also in this time frame, another Weather Flight member provided weather observation and forecasting services for the Joint Task Force Olympics, in support of the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City, Utah. The weather support team worked out of Hill Air Force Base, near Ogden, Utah.
Activity (quite literally) heated up even more in 2003 as five WF members deployed with U.S. ground troops for the invasion of Iraq. The forecasters deployed with the 19th Air Support Operations Squadron, which supports the Army’s 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division, and served with the 101st in Baghdad. They served in the sands of northern Kuwait, and from Baghdad to Mosul. Sandstorms were so intense at times that personnel movement was restricted and daytime tasks as simple as visiting the latrine required a compass to ensure safe return to workcenters because of extremely limited visibility. The forecasters had to work with their equipment sheathed in plastic to keep the corrosive sand from ruining their electronics.
On the training front, the unit participated in four weapons-of-mass-destruction exercises at military locations within the Commonwealth with the 34th Civil Support Team. The flight took part in a two-week Warfighter command and control exercise at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and it deployed with and handled all forecasting requirements for the aviation brigade of the Army’s 29th Infantry Division during the division’s annual field training at Ft. A.P. Hill. Additionally, unit members were among the first to complete a new field training program emphasizing tactical, communication and technical skills.
The 200th Weather Flight is a tenant guard unit at Richmond International Airport; its primary mission is to provide tailored weather observing and forecasting support to the Army’s 29th Infantry Division (Light).
They work in and report on some of the most extreme weather conditions on earth. They’ve provided weather forecasting services for ground and air military training exercises as far north as upper New York during winter - in 50-degree-below-zero temperatures with heavy lake-effect snow. They’ve given weather advisories for ground troops in the deserts of Kuwait with temperatures reaching 124°, with no shade and blinding sandstorms driven by 30-40 knot winds.
This period of tremendous effort was recognized by senior VaANG leadership during the May drill when several unit members received official AF recognition, including MSgt. Lori W. Flinn, Weather System Manager, who earned the Bronze Star for her work while in Iraq.