Air Traffic Control … The eyes of the Air Station

31 Aug 2007 | Lance Cpl. James M. Mercure

Traffic alert Blade 2-1, 12 o’clock, two miles opposite direction. Advise you turn left immediately!

The Marines of Fightertown’s Air Traffic Control facility keep the aircraft flying to, from and over the Air Station out of harm and each other’s way.

“Safety is paramount,” said Sgt. Chris Benn, the ATC watch officer. “It’s the whole purpose of our job here.”

Like many other units aboard the Air Station, the Marines of ATC are constantly training and studying their military occupational specialty manuals time and time again to ensure their readiness and sharpen their abilities to keep the pilots and the local community safe during airborne training missions.

“You’re always a student,” said Cpl. James Scott, an ATC specialist. “You have to always keep learning, because things are constantly changing.”

The Marines of ATC have many tools at their disposal to accomplish their mission including a Tower Display Workstation, which displays all aircraft in the air and gives the ATC Marines a better idea of how to sequence their flights.

“Our radar is constantly sending signals over our air traffic area and the information is sent to our TDW,” Scott said. “We use the information to perform the various duties required to keep the pilots and ground crew safe.”

Marines are known throughout the world for being quick on their feet and adapting to any situation that comes their way, but in this MOS, Marines have to adapt even faster.

“You could be a great air traffic controller somewhere else, but when you change duty stations, everything changes. It’s a new surrounding area and you have to learn all the new rules and regulations for that airfield,” said Staff Sgt. Vince Herrera, an ATC tower supervisor. “This job is so important. If you don’t pick things up fast enough you could be removed from the MOS.”

“Because this job is so stressful, some Marines ‘wash-out’ of the MOS because they can’t qualify on a station,” Scott explained.

One of the greatest flightline hazards shares the skies with the aircraft above the Air Station. Flocks of birds sometimes stay on the flightline and in order to ensure the safety of the aircraft they must be moved.

“We monitor and document the trends of wildlife activity on the flightline,” said Trey Daughtery, an Air Station wildlife biologist. “When ATC calls us, we go to the flightline and disperse the birds using a pyrotechnic pistol.”

“Bird Animal Strike Hazard, or BASH, is called out and fires flares at any flock of birds that could endanger the aircraft,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jon Redimarker, an ATC crew chief.

Fightertown’s ATC Marines keep several pairs of well-trained eyes to the skies from their seven-story tower to ensure that everything that happens is carefully planned and being implemented correctly.

“There are at least five Marines in the tower at all times,” Herrera said. “We have that many up here to make sure the job is done right because peoples’ lives are at stake with every decision we make.”

The Air Station pilots can rest easy knowing their jets are being closely watched as they cut through the air and when it’s time to land, they will be guided home safely each and every time.