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Controllers keep combat sorties cruising

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Bahja J. Jones
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
With the busiest airfield in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility for joint and coalition forces, the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing depends on a team of skilled air traffic controllers to ensure safe, smooth airfield operations.

"The main priority of an air traffic controller here is to separate and sequence aircraft, and try to keep operations as safe as possible," said Tech. Sgt. Thomas Miller, the 379th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron air traffic control watch supervisor deployed from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., and an Olathe, Kan., native. "It's a lot like being a controller back home, except the operations tempo is faster and things tend to change more frequently."

When operating at home station, missions are typically on a more regular schedule, but here, controllers have to be more prepared for air tasking order changes, Miller explained. They have to be able to adapt and make sure aircraft land and take off on time.

Controllers here are essential to not only operations at the 379th AEW, but every deployed location in Southwest Asia. Aircraft here support missions including aeromedical evacuations, air drops for troops in forward operating bases, transporting passengers between FOBs and providing overwatch for troops on the ground.

"If we aren't on top of things and an aircraft 'slips,' or misses an air tasking order mission, it can affect things you don't want to think about," he said. "There may be someone waiting on special equipment, or potentially headed home to their families who are dependent on us getting the aircraft off the ground safe and on-time. Every aircraft in and out of here has a purpose and could potentially have a mission downrange."

While they typically try to keep air traffic operations on a first come, first serve basis, Miller said, sometime mission parameters change and that practice doesn't always work.

"If an aircraft needs to get off the ground first to 'drop bombs on targets,' we have to be able to change [ the departure order] on the fly," he said.

The air traffic control tower is manned 24/7 due to the continuous, high-volume operations here at the 379th AEW. Upon arrival to the wing, the controllers have five days from the time they arrive to be fully ready to support the mission here.

"Stateside, the expectation for someone to be fully trained on operating at a new tower is anywhere from six months to a year," said Miller. "We bring in controllers with different backgrounds, experiences and training, and they perform their functions well."

Controllers here not only govern air traffic for Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine assets, but they also support the host nation flying assets as well.

"We work directly with the local controllers just like we would with any other Air Force personnel," Miller said. "As a top-line supervisor, I have to be able to oversee them and provide corrections as necessary, while practicing the proper customs and courtesies of the host nation."

Air traffic controllers here are always ready to guide and govern aircraft and are essential to successful operations in the CENTCOM AOR.

"We have a fantastic team, who do a very important job," said Capt. Jason Matheny, the 379th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron ATC flight commander, deployed from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., and originally from Biloxi, Miss. "They seamlessly manage one of our most valuable assets -- the airfield."