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Weather and Culture: The forecast for a great Air Force partnership

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  • By Jasmine Bourgeois, AFCLC Outreach Team

U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Zachary Kelly’s model data, meteorology abilities, and geography skills are some of the most important tools in the Air Force forecaster’s armory. For four years, his weather knowledge served as a guiding light for pilots at Yokota Air Base in Japan. Combining his military experience with his scientific and language expertise, each one of SSgt Kelly’s calculations ensured the safety of his fellow Airmen.

“Pilots have a checklist of items of what needs to be done to be cleared to fly and weather is a top priority,” SSgt Kelly said, “what’s really important to the pilot is the base of the clouds and how high the clouds are from the ground and conditions and wind during takeoff near the airfield”.

The winds and clouds were just some of the factors in his daily intricate weather forecast. Working at base, he supported the operations squadron, the C 130’s, the C 12’s, and other heavy carriers/aircraft.

“It was always something different,” SSgt Kelly said, “the atmosphere is forever changing and so dynamic”.

During the beginning of his assignment, SSgt Kelly realized the depth of his own words. At the base, majority of their tasks included airlifting food, medicine, and other supplies to areas devastated by natural disasters.

In 2011, this mission included supporting northeast Japan after a deadly 9.0 magnitude earthquake. Experts have described the earthquake as the most powerful quake to ever hit Japan, generating an enormous tsunami, flattening homes, and killing nearly 20,000 people. SSgt Kelly said he was honored to be able to use his weather and language skills to help. He spent his days making sure the conditions were favorable for the pilots to take off.

“Most forecasters were working 12 hour shifts at the time,” SSgt Kelly said, “we were constantly taking off and getting supplies to the people affected. I think this shows how quickly we were able to get on the scene and make a difference”.

For SSgt Kelly, his weather job was only part of his journey during his time in Japan. Knowing how to forecast is important, he said, but understanding the language and culture are essential when becoming an International Airman. A life lesson, he said, he learned during one of his first deployments.

“I’d originally spent a year in Korea prior to coming to Japan and I knew when I left Korea that I had not used my time to the best of my ability,” SSgt Kelly said, “when I touched down in Japan, I made up my mind to change. I wanted to put myself out there, learn my language, and become immersed in the culture.”

During his deep dive into the Japanese culture, SSgt Kelly discovered the LEAP program. The Air Force Culture and Language Center’s Language Enabled Airman Program is a career-spanning program that helps Airmen develop and sustain language skills. By using a two-part education system, Airmen improve their skills with eMentor courses which are online, synchronous language classes; and LITEs which are language immersions that serve as the in-country compliment to eMentor.

Once SSgt Kelly was accepted into the LEAP program, he enrolled in eMentor courses to improve his Japanese speaking skills.

“During this entire process, I learned a lot about myself and my own culture and it was really a global revelation,” he said, “the eMentor courses helped me improve my skills while deployed and the LEAP program is such an amazing experience”.

Now, back in the U.S, SSgt Kelly continues to learn more about the weather, Japan, and the language. He said he plans to return to the country soon.

“Japan is a really special place and I’m definitely feeling nostalgic, I miss everything about it…the food is amazing, the people are fantastic. Plus, once you eat Ramen in Japan, you will never got back to instant Ramen,” he chuckled. “I encourage everyone to visit Japan once in their life. Now, that I’m out of country, I am planning on scheduling a LITE soon and continuing my eMentor courses so that I don’t lose my language skills. I want to be prepared when and if I do go back for assignment”. 






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