AL-ASAD, Iraq -- With no guidance from the control tower, landing an aircraft on the flight line would be much like approaching a busy intersection without any stop signs or traffic lights.
The Marines and sailors of Detachment Alpha, Marine Air Control Squadron 1, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), are inherently responsible for providing all-weather air traffic control services to civilian, tactical and non-tactical aircraft operating within al-Asad’s airspace.
Air traffic controllers here guide aircraft safely to and from the flight line in a timely manner assisting the Marine ground combat element in the fight, doing their part to contribute to the overall mission in theater.
“The purpose of the air traffic control system is to prevent collisions between aircraft and to expedite the flow of traffic,” said Sgt. Shane Haymon, an ATC Marine with Detachment Alpha, MACS-1. “In the control tower, we provide separation and traffic advisories, operate the airport lighting and initiate notifications for emergencies and mishaps.”
Air traffic control is a vital part of the aviation system, added Haymon.
Weather plays a large part in the job these service members perform. Although the flight tempo decreases in the event of a sand storm, air traffic control’s job becomes more critical.
“With reduced visibility, the equipment is more vital because the aircraft won’t land, so it’s our responsibility to keep them separated from other aircraft in flight,” said Master Sgt. Jason A. Sunstrom, the maintenance chief for Detachment Alpha, MACS-1. “The extreme environment the equipment is being operated in has an adverse affect on the length of its life cycle and the amount of maintenance required to keep it operational.”
A Marine Air Control Squadron consists of more than just the Marines and sailors in the tower. A maintenance section works with the equipment in the “midfield,” ensuring all equipment is properly maintained.
Each piece of equipment on the midfield assists the aircrafts in flight by maintaining communication with the base and providing pilots with accurate radar readings on the other aircrafts in the area.
To help train these Marines and sailors to work in the climate here, the squadron participates in exercises at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., because those areas mimic the current location.
“We have all the necessary equipment to provide air traffic control services for anything from a forward operating base to a major air facility,” said Sunstrom.
All facets of air traffic control keep the flow of aircraft consistent, ensuring no service member on the ground operates without air support.