BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, Louisiana --
After more than 20 years of forecasting the weather for the Department of Defense in the Southeast U.S., the 26th Operational Weather Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana is shifting focus.
The importance of adaptation and innovation has driven the squadron into a more intricate role of atmospheric intelligence analysis, altering their mission less on forecasting and more on how the weather determines adversarial courses of action.
The 26th OWS Airmen coordinate with units across three continents and five major headquarters to identify mission requirements and cross-check information for accuracy.
“The larger part of our mission now encompasses information warfare which is integrating with different Air Force careers throughout the Air Force as well as our joint partners in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps,” said Maj. Krista King, 26th OWS operations officer.
In addition to expanding their mission support roles, the 26th OWS has extended their expertise into different continents, collecting data necessary to safeguard operations in the area.
“Over the last year or two, we’ve taken on U.S. Africa Command as part of our mission,” said 2nd Lt. Payton Hanson, 26th OWS senior duty officer. “We’re providing resource protection and hazard data for both the continental US and Africa.”
As cyber warfare continues to be a pervasive threat the squadron has bolstered its capabilities to continue remaining relevant, vigilant and always ready.
“We’re in the digital 21st century age,” said Tech. Sgt. Daniel Johnson, 26th OWS non-commissioned officer in charge of the systems flight. “Like anything else, our systems are vulnerable to outsiders who wish to do us harm so we do have to maintain proper security updates and isolate vulnerabilities which the enemy could abuse.”
Additionally, producing reports on tropical storms as well as working jointly with other military branches to gather and incorporate information vital for operations and exercises have further broadened the squadron’s expanding mission.
“Last year was actually the first year we were tasked with being the lead meteorological production unit for hurricane season for the continental U.S.,” said Hanson. “Last year during Hurricane Ida, we were tasked to provide weather intel to a task force that was set up to help repair the communities impacted by the storm. That mission is very near and dear to our hearts because we know the state we live in and the communities that have been impacted by hurricanes.”
While the mission and duties of the 26th OWS may be growing, so too is their skill set and ability to tackle problems. A drive for excellence, solemnity for safety and forte for flexibility keep them innovative and ready to tackle new challenges.
“It’s definitely been a journey getting to the point we’re at,” said King. “This mission is gonna evolve even more. What the squadron looks like right now is not how the squadrons gonna look again; it's gonna keep evolving and changing to help combatant commanders and our senior leaders tackle the problems they need to get after, which will be very rewarding for the Airmen out on the floor.”
The 26th OWS Airmen execute year-round environmental operations across three continents and five major headquarters while directly supporting U.S. Northern, Strategic, and Africa Command. Co-located with the Joint Global Strike Operations Center, Airmen work with other intelligence partners to integrate environmental intelligence into planning, operations and bomber task force strategies.