Thunder Challenge 2022: What Combat Weather Airmen Bring to the Fight

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Colleen Anthony
  • 62d Airlift Wing

The 1st Combat Weather Squadron hosted this year's International Combat Weather Competition: Thunder Challenge at Joint Base Lewis McChord Washington from Aug. 1-3, 2022. This competition was inspired by the Tactical Air Control Party’s Lighting Challenge and adapted to suit the combat weather specialty. Thunder Challenge invited eight U.S. Air Force Combat Weather teams to be tested on their Unit Type Code tasks, physical capability, and mental resilience; while challenging each other to be the best staff weather officer’s.

“We have combat weather squadrons from around the world that need to be on the same page; in this competition, they can collaborate with each other in a tactical environment to develop and build their capabilities for the Army,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Adam Demarco, commander of the 1st CWS.

U.S. Air Force combat weather forecaster’s work directly for the Army with the primary task of integrating environmental and weather support into Army aviation units and brigade combat teams. These combat weather airmen are required to be skilled in both weather forecasting and on the ground warfighting competency.

“The thing that sets combat weather airmen apart from other weather airmen is that they have to know how to integrate with and understand the Army, and what its commanders and decision maker’s care about,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. John Schaub, Thunder Challenge 2022 coordinator, 1st CWS. “They want to know how the weather effects ground operations, whether vehicles and convoys can move to certain places, whether ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) assets can see and especially how all these factors will effect what the enemy wants to do.”

The three-day event included 12 challenges ranging from obstacle courses and marksmanship to assembling tactical meteorological equipment and land navigation. Combat weather is a minority specialty within the Air Force weather career field, making this event crucial in furthering the expertise and capability of those who attend.

“The opportunity to interact with SWOs from around the world is what I was looking forward to most,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nathan Johnson, Thunder Challenge 2022 NCO in charge, 1st CWS. “There aren’t a lot of people in the Air Force who go out and solely support the Army, we’re one of the few career fields that does, and any chance we get to meet someone in this career field and talk about our shared experiences is incredible.”

This year’s winning team was the 1st CWS, Detachment 3 hailing from Fort Wainwright, Alaska. The team of three outperformed the other squadrons in the combat obstacle course, the Indo-Pacific focused weather forecasting challenge, and lifesaving skills, ultimately ensuring their win. Next year the event is projected to be held at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, by the 18th CWS.

“We were able to bring this event to fruition because of the creativity, teamwork and teambuilding of our Airmen and it has been a huge success; we’re so excited to showcase what weather personnel bring to the fight,” said Demarco.