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CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan – U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Matthew Robinson was one of two Marines recognized by Air Commodore Ken McCann, the U.K. air component commander, for their contributions to joint U.S. – U.K. operations at the Air Traffic Control tower here Oct. 5. During the past six months, Robinson and Staff Sgt. Timothy Pinney worked side-by-side with the 903rd Expeditionary Air Wing, the U.K. unit in charge of all ATC operations, to create a safer, more efficient airspace for coalition aviators.

Photo by Cpl. Patricia M. Morrison

Marines, UK forces partner air traffic control in Afghanistan

5 Oct 2010 | Cpl. Derek B. Carlson

Two U.S. Marines were recognized by a senior U.K. official Oct. 5 for accomplishments they achieved while working at the Air Traffic Control tower here.

U.K. Air Commodore Ken McCann, the U.K. air component commander, visited Staff Sgts. Timothy Pinney and Matthew Robinson to personally thank them for their contributions to the U.S. - U.K. operations over the past six months.

The staff sergeants were the first two ATC liaisons in Afghanistan with Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward).

“It took some getting used to some of the smaller differences in procedure because we have been doing it the Marine way for so long, but it is really just a different way of doing the same thing,” said Pinney. “Once we started seeing opportunities for aviation improvement for Bastion, Leatherneck, or [International Security Assistance Forces], we took them and built on them."

Now, six months after Pinney and Robinson took the initiative, there are nine Marines with MACG-38 working at the ATC, who contribute to the safe management of the airspace and flight line. The Marine-reinforced ATC has made a seamless transition into regulating the dramatic increase of operations taking place in Regional Command Southwest.

According to Major Kevin Korpinen, the operations officer for MACG-38, the amount of air traffic the flight line here receives is currently in excess of 200,000 operations a year – more than double the amount than that of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, the home station of 3rd MAW.

While serving in a location with frequently restricted visibility, ongoing construction projects and a diverse array of coalition aircraft operating here, there are many conflicting variables the ATC personnel must take into consideration.

The new collaboration between the U.S. and U.K. ATC has put several new perspectives on these variables and created a more efficient and safer airspace. Furthermore, by having additional Marines augment the tower staff, the length of working shifts has been reduced for the controllers.

U.K. troops with the 903rd Expeditionary Air Wing, the unit which oversees all ATC operations, collaborated with the U.S. Marines to reanalyze some ATC procedures. By adopting the “one team one fight” attitude, Marines and U.K. service members have polished the ATC procedures to support ISAF in Afghanistan.

“The [U.K. service members] here really bend over backwards to accommodate us,” said Sgt. Thomas Foster, who is currently receiving his U.K. approach qualifications for the ATC. “They go out of their way to make us feel like part of their team.”

Through working with the U.K. ATC here, the Marines obtained a skill set and experience available nowhere else in the world.

“The 903rd [EAW] guys are very dedicated to teamwork,” said Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Stom, the MACG-38 ATC chief. “My Marines not only work with them in the tower, but they live with them at Bastion as well. I want them to take everything they can from this experience.”

The 903rd EAW and Marine air traffic controllers set a prime example of the joint capabilities accomplishable by coalition forces. Through working together, U.S. and U.K. troops have developed a step ahead of what is required of operations here.

“From a U.S. - U.K. point of view, we go back quite a long way, and there are so many parallels between what the Royal Air Force does and what the Marine Corps does,” said McCann, who spent eight months aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., for AV-8B Harrier conversion training. “… It is by no surprise, I think, that we recognize each service, and what it is we do together.”

Pinney and Robinson are slated to return from their deployment within the month.

“The Marines coming in the second rotation will be able to build on what we have done and pick up where we have left off,” said Robinson.

Their dedication to joint ATC operations has set the foundation for bigger and better joint projects in the future.