What are Navy aerographer’s mates? They proved vital to the fleet in Hampton Roads ahead of Florence

Aerographer’s Mate Airman Apprentice Dimitri K. Kaponis, from Hamilton, New Jersey, takes weather readings aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Carson J. Davis)
Aerographer’s Mate Airman Apprentice Dimitri K. Kaponis, from Hamilton, New Jersey, takes weather readings aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Carson J. Davis)

U.S. Fleet Forces’ decision to sortie more than 30 ships ahead of Hurricane Florence is a stark reminder of how weather can affect the Navy.

The Navy relies on its aerographer’s mates for accurate forecasts and observations of weather conditions to determine operations and manage fleet readiness.

Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command ordered all Navy ships in the Hampton Roads area to sortie on Sept. 10, ahead of Hurricane Florence.

Aerographer’s mates are trained experts who collect, record and analyze meteorological and oceanographic data. Using this information, they can prepare warnings of severe and hazardous weather and sea conditions. Their observations are used to brief the ship’s leaders on current and predicted environmental conditions and their effect on operations.

“We are important for a lot of things, specifically for situations like this, when there is a hurricane coming,” said Aerographer’s Mate 2nd Class James Henson, from North Little Rock, Arkansas, and assigned to the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). “We will inform the ship where to go to avoid really bad weather that could potentially cause damage.”

AGs must be aware of changing conditions and be able to predict weather developments to ensure GHWB can continue to operate uninhibited by weather.

AGs make periodic observations using radar imagery and meteorological and oceanographic data to accurately read weather conditions and advise the chain of command.

“Being very observant and knowing what’s going on around us is very important in this rate,” said Aerographer’s Mate Airman Apprentice Dimitri K. Kaponis, from Hamilton, New Jersey.
“We take weather observations every hour, and during flight operations it’s every half hour.”

When AGs detect abnormal conditions, they relay the information as quickly as possible to the chain of command. This allows leadership to make decisions on what course to take based on weather forecasts.

“When flight operations are happening and there are thunderstorms, AGs will find a clearing and help move the ship,” said Henson. “Safety is important to AGs, because our forecasts and observations keep Sailors out of harm’s way.”

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“If a forecast pans out, and I know I moved the ship in the right direction and kept everyone safe, it’s very rewarding.” Henson said. “We do this to keep the mission going.”

Having the ability to be ready for any weather condition gives the Navy an advantage when it comes to operational capabilities at sea, in the air and on land.

“We can give our special forces a tactical advantage when we are going up against our enemies,” Henson said. “If Navy SEALs are performing a raid, our observations help them plan accordingly to get that mission done.”

AGs help the overall mission by impacting ship movement, giving intel for flight operations and even ensuring safe port visits. In short, weather analysis plays an important part in a many of Navy operations.

“It’s rewarding to be able to brief the captain and the navigator, and for them to trust me with the forecast,” Henson said. “The most important aspect of my job is always being alert and always paying attention to what is going on with the weather. I’m always ready for what’s coming and ready to make recommendations that can save lives.”

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.