Watchful eye: ATCs ensure smooth flying operations

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jarrod Grammel
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
The success or failure of a mission rests on the shoulders of many Airmen, and when it comes to flying missions, there is no room for error.

Air traffic controllers are the eyes and ears of the mission. They relay valuable information to pilots and ensure safe takeoffs, flights and landings.

"We provide air traffic control service within five miles of our tower to get the pilots in the air and then back on the ground safely," said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Merritt, 23rd Operations Support Squadron tower chief controller. "The pilots trust us, and we ensure they are taken care of while they're in the air.

"Operations have to stay fluid," he added. "It's never the same, it's always changing. You have to be able to think on your feet, adapt and overcome, and make the right decision."

Air traffic controllers communicate with numerous other squadrons, such as weather, to get valuable information to pass on to pilots.

"Us doing our job helps pilots do theirs," Senior Airman Darnell Smith, 23rd OSS air traffic controller and trainer. "We contribute directly to the fight. While pilots are flying missions and dropping bombs, we make sure they have the important information they need."

Because of the important responsibilities they take on, air traffic controllers attend a challenging 72-day technical training course. Even after technical training, they go through long and extensive on-the-job training, which lasts up to a year.

"Training is the most difficult part of our job," said Staff Sgt. Bradley Davis, 23rd OSS air traffic controller. "It takes a lot of work to stay proficient, but I like the challenge."

Once at their first base, air traffic controllers spend eight to 10 hours a day training until they are fully rated. The training involves book work and memorization, live training, and time training with the Tower Simulator System.

"I have a lot of pride and confidence in my trainers," said Merritt. "It is a challenging career field, and it has a high washout rate."

Airman 1st Class Glenn Strickland, another air traffic controller, has 12 days of training left until being fully rated and said despite the challenges and training, he enjoys the job.

"I like the challenge," he said. "It never gets boring, and there are always different scenarios."

"So much training and time goes into being an air traffic controller," he added. "It takes so much out of you every day and it can be stressful. Not everyone can handle it."

Air traffic controllers have many responsibilities and have to be ready for any scenario to communicate hazards to the pilots.

From their tower, air traffic controllers keep a watchful eye on the runways and planes, making sure flying operations run smoothly.