‘My journey into the meteorological military world’
Peter Crookes, Met Office Senior Meteorological Officer at Wattisham Airfield in Suffolk, reflects on his career opportunities around the world and how they have shaped him.
My journey into the world of military meteorology started at the age of 16 when I applied to join the Meteorology and Oceanography branch of the Royal Navy.
The Navy gave me a challenge that encompassed my passion for problem solving and my analytical thinking. My first posting was in Cornwall, followed by 2.5 years on the HMS Ark Royal in the United States and the Bahamas, and a year mobilised in the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas. This was the most challenging and enjoyable time of my naval career. Working and living in very close confines with others taught me how to get on with people from all backgrounds, really driving home a togetherness and team ethos. I had to learn how to observe the weather properly and become attuned to its changes, because we had no radar and only a few satellite images each day. I had never seen so many stars or appreciated just how beautiful (and vulnerable) our planet is. I vividly remember the rough seas smashing over the front of our ship and being one of the only people allowed on deck tied to the railings! Although the working hours were exhausting at times, I was sustained by feeling I was contributing to something bigger than myself.
After eight years in the armed forces, I decided it was time for a new challenge. At the time I was working at Northwood with Met Office staff. So I ended my naval career on a Friday, hung up my military uniform, and arrived at RAF Shawbury in Shropshire on the following Monday in a suit to work as a Met Office Observer. I continued to work closely with the military, which I think was mutually beneficial for them and the Met Office because of my background. It took me a few years to lose some of my ‘military-ness’ (and I still sometimes say “we” when talking about the Navy). But I’ve tried to hold onto some of the characteristics I developed including resilience, drive, togetherness and seeing the bigger picture.
I also retained my desire to travel and experience different cultures. After a three-month work trip to the Falklands (including seeing penguins run in and out of the sea!), I was posted for three years to Germany where I joined the military reserve section of the Met Office called the MMU (Mobile Met Unit). The weather affects everything the military does. So, my role has included giving expert meteorological data and advice to help pilots and parachutists in the air, and commanders on the ground. Through this role I’ve been deployed to various places including Iraq, Afghanistan, Oman, Kenya and various other European countries.
I’ve benefited from having two employers – the Royal Navy and the Met Office – who truly believe in the value of people and helping them to develop. My lack of formal qualifications could have prevented me from progressing in the Met Office, but they supported me to complete a Maths degree while working full-time in some of the most remote and faraway parts of the world. I even did my final exam in a tent in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan! Without ongoing support and encouragement from my managers (and my wife) I wouldn’t have been able to achieve this.
I continued my education at work by successfully completing a course to become an Operational Meteorologist. Unlike my previous remote learning, this involved going back to the classroom, which I found challenging. I failed an exam for the first time in my life. But my tutors were able to normalise this and motivate me to pass the resit, which made me feel valued and invested in.
Since progressing to my current role of Senior Meteorological Officer at Wattisham Airfield in Suffolk, I’ve been able to help others in a similar way. I recognise the challenges of leaving the military and returning to civilian life where everything is so different. And I know there are great opportunities for people who are going through that transition, because many of the skills are transferable to somewhere like the Met Office. My role as a manager is to build an environment for others to succeed and develop, making the most of their career opportunities and enjoying what we do for our customers. I try to do this better every day.
I would definitely recommend being an Operational Meteorologist at the Met Office. Meteorology has an impact on almost every area of life, and we make a difference to so many people in the UK and overseas. I feel fortunate to have worked in so many parts of the world, and my experiences have shaped me into the person I am today. I’m excited for the future, as we exploit new technologies and other opportunities to make tomorrow better.