2005 Air Force Times
Winner
Tech. Sgt. Paul Walker
355th Operations Support, Davis-Monthan AFB

Combat weather forecaster for the 355th Operations Support Squadron, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona

Age 30. Joined the Air Force in 1993. Married Brooke in July 2004. Hobbies include golf, hockey and cooking.

DAVID-MONTHAN AFB, Arizona - To his supervisors, Technical Sgt. Paul Walker is a battle-tested leader, an innovator, a professional and a problem solver with a knack for making improvements.

The combat weather forecaster is also an avid cook who baked dozens of cookies over the holidays last year for airmen in the dorms.

"The best thing about Paul is he's self-motivated and he's got the brains and leadership skills to back it up," said his flight chief, Master Sgt. Heidi Bondi.

During his 101-day deployment last year to Balad Air Field, Iraq, the base came under attack 92 times. To help protect the area, Walker filled and stacked more than 20,000 sandbags. Even amid the violence, he remained "confident and directive" as the noncommissioned officer in charge of a team of eight, said his flight commander, Capt. Marc Gasbarro, who heard feedback from troops.

When Walker deployed to Bagram Air Base in August 2002, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, he had little to work with. The Taliban had destroyed all meteorological records. So Walker implemented a program to collect and organize weather data, conducted a wind study and created a forecast template that is used there today, Bondi said."He's always going to a place and making it better," she said.

Walker said he grew up an "Air Force brat." His father, who retired as a master sergeant in 1991, was one of the reasons he decided to enlist in 1993. Weather forecasting, a field in which every day is different, appealed to his competitive side.One of his proudest moments came in 1999 when he accurately forecasted a tornado would hit Altus Air Force Base, Okla., in 15 minutes; 10 minutes is the desired lead time.

He's also known nail-biting moments. He was on the midnight shift at Balad when a quick-reaction force needed a weather report while responding to to a downed helicopter. In eight years, he'd never had a weather-related aircraft incident. He waited for two hours, nervous for the crew and the forecast, until finally hearing "mission complete."

"My nature is, I want to make sure it's right," he said.

At home, Walker created two new programs, moving his team from pen-and-paper surveys to databases and points systems. One tracks the accuracy of daily forecasts, showing management what areas need improvement. His accuracy rate was 88 percent last year; 75 percent is standard. The other measures operational forecast accuracy against the weather pilots encountered.

The programs prompted kudos from Air Force auditors, who called Davis-Monthan "the only base doing it the right way."

Because of another program he built and led, according to his supervisors, Davis-Monthan earned Air Combat Command's first-ever score of 100 percent on the mobility portion of the Air Force weather standards and evaluation program.

Walker said he hopes to enter officer training school or become a chief master sergeant.

Forty hours short of a bachelor's degree in natural science and mathematics, Walker holds a 4.0 grade point average. Last year he took part in the base's "Santas in Blue" program, giving toys to children.

In 2004, he was the NCO of the year for his base and ACC's Weather NCO of the year. He's also received two Army Commendation medals and two Army Achievement medals.

Despite the accolades, his ego remains in check, Gasbarro said.

He received the news of his "Airman of the Year" award amid about 10 commanders who clapped as his face turned red, his voice choking out, "Thank you very much."

"He's the best airman, capital A, that I've ever seen," Gasbarro said.