Being a part of something bigger

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., -- You go through your entire military career being told that you are "a part of something bigger than yourself." Perhaps one of the coolest things about that is the moment you realize that it is true. I am a Ground Radar Systems Technician, a career field so small that sometimes members of our own squadron don't even know who we are. Our mission is to provide weather data to Beale AFB, but also to the entire Northern California region.

The equipment I maintain is the WSR-88D NEXRAD Weather Radar. On paper that doesn't exactly mean much, but to the flying mission at Beale and perhaps more so to the general public, the data we provide means a lot. Any time you turn on the news or check the weather online, you are looking at our data. Our system ties into a system called the National Weather Service that combines the data from all weather systems in North America into one display. Using our data forecasters in the mid-west can see potential storms thousands of miles away. The data is not exclusive to forecasters but the information is available to anyone who has access to the internet.

When I joined the Air Force in 2010, my father was probably more excited about me going into the military than I was, and even more so when he found out I was going into radar. My father has never been in the military, but I can tell he wishes he did join up. Unfortunately, by the time he was of age to do so, the Vietnam War had just finished and the American public wasn't too happy with what the military stood for, so as a result received his PhD in Geography instead. However, his curiosity and interest in electronics, broadcasting and the military never left him and occasionally he likes to look in to what I do, simply because it intrigues him.

On one particular occasion he wanted to see the data from our radar, but was met by a blank image where the radar map should have been. What he saw was a note explaining that our site, at Beale AFB was down due to equipment failure, a status that was, by the point my dad saw it, on its fifth day. On that particular day it was forecasted that California's notorious rainy season was supposed to show its face and the users were begging for data. Immediately my father sent an email to me asking what happened. It just so happened that the very morning he sent me that email I was en route to the site with the part to fix the problem. Within two hours of that email, I was able to reply with an email simply saying "Radar's fixed". 

Members of Team Beale do many big things, and most everyone has a direct military mission they support. However we don't always understand or realize that the mission isn't the only thing we do. To speak directly to a user of a product or service we provide, blood relative or not, military or civilian, is one of the smallest yet most noteworthy rewards. It's also very humbling when you realize that something you work on day-to-day and take for granted may actually be a very important piece of someone's morning, commute, vacation, etc. The ground radar mission isn't limited to the 240-mile radius of coverage we maintain, just as the Beale mission isn't isolated to Northern California and Nevada. The Air Force is a global force, but those U-2's, MC-12's, RQ-4's and T-38's can't take off and fly unless they know what they are flying into. That's why I'm here and my weather radar belongs to Beale.