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Marines Shine Light On Radar Darkness
by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Evan Lane
December 30, 2017

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Military aircraft are incredibly versatile, but they can’t work in isolation. In Puerto Rico, they have been flying missions in all conditions, at all times of day and night, to accomplish their lifesaving humanitarian objectives. Marines serving with the Marine Air Control Squadron 2 keep those aircraft aloft with two expeditionary X band radar systems normally used for operations in combat zones.

“This is a unique experience for us to use these radars in a humanitarian aid environment,” said Marine Warrant Officer Adam Harmon, the air control detachment officer in charge in Puerto Rico.

November 17, 2017 - Marines serving with the Marine Air Control Squadron 2 pose in front of their X band radar system in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. They set up the system in order to bring radar services back to the island following Hurricane Maria. The hurricane destroyed all National Weather Service weather radar systems in Puerto Rico, and may take up to six months to repair. In the interim, the MACS 2 Marines will continue to fill the data gap with their two radar sites. From left to right are: Sgt. Hillary Hanner, Cpl. Jamie Maynard, Sgt. Robert Ratcliff, Chief Warrant Officer Adam Harmon, Pfc. Jacob Reilly, Staff Sgt. Rachael Parkison (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Evan Lane)
November 17, 2017 - Marines serving with the Marine Air Control Squadron 2 pose in front of their X band radar system in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. They set up the system in order to bring radar services back to the island following Hurricane Maria. The hurricane destroyed all National Weather Service weather radar systems in Puerto Rico, and may take up to six months to repair. In the interim, the MACS 2 Marines will continue to fill the data gap with their two radar sites. From left to right are: Sgt. Hillary Hanner, Cpl. Jamie Maynard, Sgt. Robert Ratcliff, Chief Warrant Officer Adam Harmon, Pfc. Jacob Reilly, Staff Sgt. Rachael Parkison (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Evan Lane)

Normally the National Weather Service provides all radar imagery for the island of Puerto Rico through powerful permanent radar installations. Hurricane Maria destroyed those installations and threw the island into radar darkness. Repairs are expected to take several months at least.

November 17, 2017 - An X band expeditionary radar system, center, stands on the airfield in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Marines serving with the Marine Air Control Squadron 2 set up the system in order to bring radar services back to the island following Hurricane Maria. The hurricane destroyed all National Weather Service weather radar systems in Puerto Rico, and may take up to six months to repair. In the interim, the MACS 2 Marines will continue to fill the data gap with their two radar sites. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Evan Lane)
November 17, 2017 - An X band expeditionary radar system, center, stands on the airfield in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Marines serving with the Marine Air Control Squadron 2 set up the system in order to bring radar services back to the island following Hurricane Maria. The hurricane destroyed all National Weather Service weather radar systems in Puerto Rico, and may take up to six months to repair. In the interim, the MACS 2 Marines will continue to fill the data gap with their two radar sites. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Evan Lane)

“The danger of operation without radar,” said Harmon, “is if a convective storm produces over the island, we won’t have an image of it via satellite for an additional thirty minutes to an hour.”

That sort of delay poses significant dangers to both air and ground assets. Many retaining walls and roadways across the island have been compromised by winds, rains and mudslides. Those damaged areas continue to wash out during rain storms, but the expeditionary radar systems alert teams to those dangers and allow them to prepare for the deluge.

Because of their portable nature, the radar stations have less reach than the permanent stations they are replacing. That means positioning of the two sites was critical, with one eastern and one western location.

“The biggest thing is doing a site survey first,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Rachael Parkison, Marine Tactical Operations Center chief for the Aguadilla radar station. “We’re shooting at a very shallow angle, so any kind of obstructions – buildings, trees, even trucks – will cause backscatter.”

Once the site survey was completed by Harmon, six Marines at each site were able to erect the radar equipment in mere hours and provide coverage for the Puerto Rico.

“Our equipment had already been op checked at the airfield,” said Parkison, “so once we arrived on site, we orientated the whole system to north and started putting that bad boy up.”

The radar images that Parkison and her fellow Marines put together are used by the National Weather Service to get an idea of the weather on the island. Each site is aimed at an angle to cover low altitude effects near itself, and high altitude weather on the other side of the island. By overlapping the two sites’ scans, a complete atmospheric picture is created.

November 17, 2017 - Marine Staff Sgt. Rachael Parkison, Marine Tactical Operations Center chief for the Aguadilla radar station, surveys weather radar data streaming from her team’s X band expeditionary radar system in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Marines serving with the Marine Air Control Squadron 2 set up the system in order to bring radar services back to the island following Hurricane Maria. The hurricane destroyed all National Weather Service weather radar systems in Puerto Rico, and may take up to six months to repair. In the interim, the MACS 2 Marines will continue to fill the data gap with their two radar sites. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Evan Lane)
November 17, 2017 - Marine Staff Sgt. Rachael Parkison, Marine Tactical Operations Center chief for the Aguadilla radar station, surveys weather radar data streaming from her team’s X band expeditionary radar system in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Marines serving with the Marine Air Control Squadron 2 set up the system in order to bring radar services back to the island following Hurricane Maria. The hurricane destroyed all National Weather Service weather radar systems in Puerto Rico, and may take up to six months to repair. In the interim, the MACS 2 Marines will continue to fill the data gap with their two radar sites. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Evan Lane)

“It’s a joint effort here to get aid to the people who need it,” she said. “The weather picture we’re able to distribute to the NWS is helping pilots land safely. There’s also the Guajataca Dam, which is in unstable conditions right now. They’re using our pictures to help forecast for any additional impact the weather could have on the site.”

Parkison has found other ways to help the American people of Puerto Rico as well. In addition to her duties as a forecaster and station chief, she goes out on food and water distribution missions as often as possible.

“The biggest thing I’ve witnessed when we’re able to do food and water runs is the selflessness of the people,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had families say, ‘No. Take my food, take my water up the hill. There’s somebody sick, somebody elderly.’ These people, even though they’ve been devastated, are so willing to give up what they have to somebody else.”

“That selflessness is absolutely contagious,” Parkison said, smiling. “The next time you see [something], you want to do a little bit more, you want to give up your off time to go out on another run and help.”

The extra effort hasn’t gone unnoticed by her command and the NWS.

“I can’t be happier with the efforts that Staff Sgt. Parkison and the other Marines have put in to keep the radar up and running in all the conditions we’ve faced out here,” said Harmon. He continued on to mention the significant appreciation the NWS has for the products his Marines have been able to provide them of the weather on and around the island of Puerto Rico.

Their knowledge of the weather doesn’t necessarily insulate them from it, however, and a protracted effort is required to keep the radar systems functioning without interruption.

“Last night, we had a couple thunderstorms in the area,” said Harmon. “And although we saw them on the radar image, they still knocked down the forecasting tent. We had the Marines up here last night putting the tent back up and making sure the equipment stayed operational.”

The Marines weathered that storm and will continue to do so in order to provide information critical to the humanitarian response in Puerto Rico

By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Evan Lane
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2017

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