AL QAIM, Iraq -- For hundreds of years commanders have used the weather to shape the battlefield and determine when and where to strike. The same holds true today, as coalition forces continue to support Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism. Marine weather forecasters and observers are critical to the outcome of air strikes and ground movements. Their predictions may determine the course of action a commander takes.
Marine Wing Support Squadron 271, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, deployed a small detachment of Marines skilled in meteorology to the far edge of western Iraq. These six Marines are responsible for gathering data that other forward operating bases use to determine their own forecasts.
Since weather patterns originate in the west and moves east, accurate predictions from the source are important in this desert environment. The Marines assigned to this wayward western operating base understand their role and the element they play when aircraft takeoff, and ground forces move to attack.
"The weather here in the western part of Iraq is difficult to predict," said Sgt. Jedidiah P. Gamble, weather forecaster from Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C. "Usually we have other forecasters to assist us in making predictions at a specific location. Since we are the only radar site this far west, we're the first to make predictions for the other forward operating bases."
There isn't a normal day for a weather Marine in this climate. The weather of Iraq doesn't conform to the science these Marines have studied.
"Normally, a weather track can be expected to do certain things, but it doesn't happen that way in the desert," said Gunnery Sgt. James J. Roy, from Woodhull, N.Y. "These Marines are learning to make predictions based on experience. Using what's taught in schools and what we see here, we're not only able to make accurate forecast but we're writing the books for the weather of Iraq," added the staff non commissioned officer in charge of the weather detachment.
These Marines prepare daily climatalogical reports. The data written by former Marines here, coupled with this detachments information will be used to formulate weather history for Iraq and the military units deployed to the region. Based on current records, these weather experts say it's warmer compared to last year, and the winds have increased, providing them valuable knowledge for future weather forecasts in this region.
"One challenge is that there isn't a large amount of data of Iraqi weather patterns," said Gamble, a native of Evansville, Ind. "We've gained a lot of knowledge of weather patterns and how they move through Iraq. Based on what we've recorded our predictions are some of the most accurate."
Weather forecasters are driven by the information from weather observers. Observers determine wind speed and direction, visibility and sky conditions, and temperature to stabilize the forecaster's reports for air and ground units.
"Our weather predictions affect the mission," said Cpl. Todd D. Patrick, 22, and native of Medina, Ohio. The Marine Corps has accomplished a lot here, and we want to continue that. Commanders make decisions from our forecasts. Accuracy is important," he added.
"I'm proud of the role I play in the efforts here," said Sgt. Joseph J. Mends-Cole, forecaster. The weather affects every job in some way, and we provide a planning tool for the fighting forces," added the 26-year-old from Minneapolis, Minn.
Gamble added, "Our work will someday benefit the Iraqi democracy when they have their own weather stations and are able to predict for themselves."
Understanding terrain and weather is essential for a commander's battle rhythm. Whether in the air or on the ground, the Marines of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing have the edge with accurate forecasts made possible by the meteorlogical experts deployed to the region.