Boyhood fascination forecasts winning future for weather NCO

  • Published
  • By John Stuart
  • Tinker Public Affairs
When he was a kid he would just sit and watch the storms roll in. The Owasso, Okla., native drank in the sensory weather patterns of his Tornado Alley home, particularly drawn to the gonging, blustery thunderstorms that swept down the plains.

Although those childhood days are far behind, Master Sgt. Sam Pugh is still passionate about all things weather, and it shows. Indeed, it doesn't take long to realize he is energized by his work as the NCOIC of the 72nd Operations Support Squadron Weather Station.

Through his "dedication to superior leadership and accomplishment," Sergeant Pugh was named the AFMC Weather Senior NCO of the Year for 2009. He still watches thunderstorms like the good old days. But now he does it for a job, and it's a job he's very good at.

By the time a single drop of precipitation falls on Tinker, Sergeant Pugh and his flight of forecasters are expecting it. Working 24-seven, the weather station flight of 11 compiles weather data for every plane that takes off from the base. Whenever a plane leaves the ground, the crew on board knows exactly what the weather is doing throughout their mission.

It's a critical job to the Air Force mission at large and one whose importance can be overlooked at times. But Sergeant Pugh isn't in it for the glory.

"I just love being a part of the operations and seeing our aircraft fly their missions and land safely. We enable both of those things -- mission effectiveness and safe operation and that's really cool," he said.

Sergeant Pugh and those at the weather station perform a unique function, and often advise leaders at the highest level about the effect of weather on various missions.

It's not always a perfect storm in the weather profession. There are distinct challenges. In 2009 Sergeant Pugh deployed to a base in Southwest Asia for a six-month temporary duty. The deployment stretched him -- in a more expanded role than what he'd previously performed. He assumed the role of base weather flight chief, unit deployment manager and squadron superintendent of the 380th Operations Support Squadron at an air base in Southwest Asia.

An arid climate is a particularly variable one for forecasters, Sergeant Pugh said, while noting that Air Force weather personnel are also responsible for providing forecasting data for all Army aircraft in theater.

"You'd be surprised at people, especially over in the desert, who say we don't have a job because it's just sunny and hot every day," Sergeant Pugh said. "They don't understand that actually for any mission that leaves the base, no matter what aircraft it is, we provide them with weather information from the time they take off throughout their entire route."

Sergeant Pugh has called Tinker home for the past three and a half years. Although he's now closer to extended family, staying ahead of the Oklahoma weather is never an easy task.

"A lot of time it's hard to see an impact with what you're doing," Sergeant Pugh said. "When the weather's beautiful nobody is interested, then we have these big events come across and all of sudden we're very popular."

The December 2007 ice storm, and the hailstorm of May 2008, and the Christmas Snowstorm of 2009 are only a few notable events in the severe weather almanac in recent years. Those events kept the Tinker weather crew on point as they focused on their mission of protecting base resources and notifying the public of incoming weather.

Sergeant Pugh was surprised at winning the AFMC award.

"I was very surprised to get the award," Sergeant Pugh said. "I attribute it to all the opportunities I was given. I feel like I really hit my stride as a senior NCO and was really trusted by my leadership to do new things."

"It's wonderful for us to have a senior NCO win a MAJCOM level award," said Capt. Clarence White, Tinker Base Weather Station officer in charge. "It's great that the senior NCO my younger airmen are looking up to exemplifies excellence."

But while you won't likely bump into Sergeant Pugh or his cadre of forecasting gurus on a daily basis, their work affects everyone on base. They're committed to the mission at Tinker, and to getting a bead on that beast called Oklahoma weather. And with that combination, the forecast here at Tinker couldn't be much better.