By Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska, Jan. 12, 2015 – Air Force Staff Sgt. Dana Walker is from a family focused on science. Her father and her siblings have careers in different science fields, and she chose to do the same.
“I could have done practically anything, and I picked weather,” said Walker, a 3rd Operations Support Squadron weather forecaster here. “I was like, ‘Atmospheric science — that sounds pretty awesome.'”
Keeping a Sense of the Family Business
Walker said she welcomed the opportunity presented by Air Force service to get out of her farming hometown, and then found herself at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, for eight months of technical school. She then was stationed at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. The science-based job helped her keep a sense of the family business.
“My dad’s kind of a rock nerd, or at least used to be, so he kind of had ground science covered,” Walker said. “My dad’s a geologist. He was always really enthusiastic about science career fields. He wanted us to grow up to be doctors — to look at the world in kind of a scientific manner and ask why.”
Some airmen become special operations weather technicians, an expeditionary version of the career field known for keeping an eye to the sky in combat environments.
“I thought that’s what I [would be] doing, and it’s not,” Walker said. “I had to start somewhere.” She gained job experience forecasting weather for the East Coast before applying for a special duty assignment with the Air Force Honor Guard. “It was really interesting,” she said. “I went to the [District of Columbia] area and could see the weather forecasts were true and I wasn’t just making things up. I [served in the Honor Guard] for a few years, and then came back into weather.”
Deployment to South America
Walker had her first overseas experience watching for thunderstorms while deployed to South America with an Army intelligence unit.
“Every time a storm would come through our little base, the power would cut off,” she said. “We’d have to get a forecast from outside of the power grid. We’d go outside, take observations and get elbow-deep in the rain and bugs and everything else out there.”
Having returned to Elmendorf, Walker said, she has a fresh perspective on her mission.
“The really cool thing about this base is that you can really understand very small-scale effects because of all the mountains and the lack of data,” she said. “So if there’s a helicopter in one of the valleys and it sits there running for an hour and a half, it disrupts the weather just enough that it might impact our base. It’s called the microscale effect of weather in this area.”
Praise From Flight Commander
Walker’s flight commander described her as one of only 11 key players as part of his leadership team.
“When it comes to heavy snow, freezing rain, high winds, moderate or severe turbulence that we could be seeing in the mountains or in the flying areas — the same thing with severe icing — our desk forecasters work directly with the supervisors of flying operations to make sure that the wing is protected,” Air Force Capt. Carl Densford said. “They help adjust the timing of when flights are going to happen, based on the weather.”
Walker said she loves her career field.
“This is my family business,” she said. “My dad and I are the only earth-science-based people. That’s me. I’m here and I’m learning about weather. I love logic and reason.”