MACS 1 transfers operations to Iraqi air control tower

30 Sep 2004 | Cpl. Joel A. Chaverri

Around the clock, military aircraft of all types are landing and taking off from the air base here, executing missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.With the volume of air traffic here, it is important that Marines on the ground manage the ebb and flow of flights to prevent the skies from becoming overcrowded.In a ceremonial "manning of the rails," Detachment C, Marine Aircraft Control Squadron 1, Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, transferred their operations to the Iraqi air traffic control tower here Sept. 30.Measuring 150 feet tall, the Iraqi tower is more than twice the size of the expeditionary tower, which the unit has been operating in since arriving here in MarchAccording to Capt. Jeff Meeker, detachment commander, MACS-1, the permanent Iraqi tower has numerous advantages over the more austere expeditionary tower."Our visibility has increased drastically," he said, "and as a result we can control the (aircraft) traffic a whole lot better.""We were using the AN/TSQ-120 ATC tower," said Meeker, a 34-year-old Oceanside, Calif., native. "Now that we've moved, we're not going to abandon that tower; it will still be used for backup operations."One of the largest air bases in Iraq, Al Asad's facilities proved suitable to support aviation operations when MACS-1 took over the airfield earlier this year. "When the commanding officer of MACS-1, Lt. Col. T.J. Pierson, first came to Al Asad in March, he immediately decided he wanted to move into the Iraqi tower," said Odessa, Texas, native Maj. Javier T. Ramos, executive officer, MACS-1. "Utilizing the existing infrastructure of the air base, we are able to provide Marines with every ATC capability that we would have in the states." Because the Iraqi tower had not been utilized or maintained for an extended period of time, it wasn't easy for MACS-1 to get it ready for use."Three months went into preparing of the tower," said Ramos, an activated reservist who managed a Home Depot in Allen, Texas before deploying here. "The (Iraqi tower) had been abandoned for so long, it took a lot of work to clean it all up." "This task has required a lot of teamwork and cooperation," remarked the 35-year-old. "(Those are) things that relate directly to my management job back at home."Before transitioning into the Iraqi tower, the Marines of MACS-1 first had to overcome the complications that arose while attempting to get their aviation gear to adapt to its new surroundings."All the equipment we used was from a remote landing site tower (RLST)," said 23-year-old, Phoenix, Ariz., native Lance Cpl. James P. Candelaria, air traffic control communications technician, MACS-1. "None of it was originally intended for use in an actual tower, much less an Iraqi one."Nevertheless, once renovations on the building began, the Marines had the tower up and running within 10 days."We wanted to have the official opening on (September 30) because it's actually a special day," said Ramos. "Today we passed 100,000 flights since (March) without any serious incidents."Having achieved such a significant record of success in their former control tower, the Marines of MACS-1 definitely have a high level of accomplishment to live up to during the remainder of their deployment here.