JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska, –
When you get a pop-up notification of an adverse weather event on your computer, it's the work of an Airman at the 3rd Operations Support Squadron's Weather Flight.
Airman 1st Class Rachel Schultz joined the flight after technical school in September of 2020, and is one of those Airmen.
“She's motivated to do what it takes to get the job done; she's proven that,” said Tech. Sgt. Michael Picciano, noncommissioned officer in charge of the flight's mission weather operations. “She just recently got certified to do the position, a month early.
“She does resource protection for the airfield. We put out watches, warnings and advisories to support aircrew and aircraft, ensuring that personnel know what weather they're coming into and going to deal with.”
It's a demanding job, Picciano said.
“It's really important to be able to adapt in this job, and she embodies that with her drive to get things done and to be a frontrunner in our job. The moment we got her here, we knew she was going to get things done.”
Schultz said comes from a military family which imparted a lifelong urge to serve.
“Both my maternal grandmother and grandfather served in the U.S. Marine Corps,” she said. “Growing up with them, we had a pride instilled in us for our country. I knew I always wanted to be like them; I wanted to give back to the country.”
After researching the various military branches, she decided on the Air Force, she said, and made a list of jobs with her recruiter which interested her.
“I went to a recruiter just before my 19th birthday,” she said. “The next Monday I was at [the Military Entrance Processing Station], and I was at basic that November.”
She'd chosen several science-based Air Force job possibilities, including some in the medical field, and was assigned as a Weather Specialist.
“I was OK with joining for weather,” she said. “I didn't think I'd like it as much as I do. It's a fantastic career field, and you learn a bunch.
“In Alaska we don't have as much data as in the Lower 48, so a lot of it is learning the patterns when you see a weather setup. I had to learn the patterns and the terrain around us with the mountains. Like when there's a low setting up in the Prince William Sound – when that happens, we get a bunch of snow. That's a weather pattern we look out for to make sure we can forecast the amount we're going to get.”
One of the more rewarding aspects of the job is providing weather support for real-world search-and-rescue missions, Schultz said.
“We support the rescue squadrons, so whenever there's a call from the Rescue Coordination Center and they request a rescue mission, it's rewarding when they're able to recover someone and you know you're a part of that.”
Schultz said the Weather Flight's intensive training and support from her NCOs has helped her finish her initial certifications early and build the confidence she needed.
“When I started I wasn't confident – when you forecast wrong, that's on you,” she noted. “I was nervous, but my NCOs told me 'you know what you're doing, you're going by the book' and gave me confidence to brief pilots without questioning myself.” she said. “If there was anything I didn't know, any NCO I called with questions would walk me through stuff. They take training very seriously here.”