MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (SEPTEMBER 28, 2011) --
At any given time, day or night, one is sure to hear the constant sounds of aircraft taking off from the flight line. But what if the air traffic controllers weren't there to do their jobs? The familiar sounds that you would usually hear could be replaced by the sound of planes crashing or falling out of the sky.
"Our unit's mission is the safe, orderly, and expeditious flight of aircraft," said air traffic controller Staff Sgt. Casey S. Chandler. "We want to move them as fast as we can, as safe as we can. But we want to also prevent collisions between the aircraft. We organize and expedite the flow of traffic."
The control tower is manned by Marines and contracted civilians 24 hours a day, with the exception of holidays. If those Marines are late for work or do not show up for work, they are potentially affecting people's lives. On the ground side of their operations, the tower is responsible for guiding aircraft down the runway until takeoff. The control tower also has a radar room that watches over 60 square miles of airspace surrounding the base that goes up to an altitude of approximately 18,000 ft, said ATC tower chief Gunnery Sgt. Christopher N. Hearn. The tower controls all aircraft traffic going into Coastal Carolina Airport in New Bern, N.C. and Michael J. Smith Airport in Beaufort, N.C.
"Everybody plays an important part here. We have multiple manned positions. There is specific training and qualifications for each position. Every Marine is an asset because they are trained to work multiple positions," said Staff Sgt. Chandler. The main positions up in the tower are flight data, ground control, local control, and tower supervisor.
"We are important because people's lives are in our hands," said air traffic controller Lance Cpl. Justin T. Perez. "Pilots rely on us, especially when they can only see 100 feet in front of them due to bad weather, and they have to land on the runway because they are running out of fuel."
Gunnery Sgt. Hearn explains how Air traffic controllers are pilots' eyes in the skies. It is their job to ensure that aircraft don’t collide. They separate aircraft that operate in a National Air Space System and provide safety alerts to the pilots as well. During periods of low visibility and inclement weather, the tower guides pilots to safety. He feels that it is their duty as air traffic controllers to always be at work, and to be there on time, because anything could happen at any given time. They are responsible for ensuring safety. Every Marine that works at the tower knows the importance of being reliable. When it comes to showing up at work, there is no room for error.
"We deal with aircraft that carry troops and supplies over to Afghanistan," said Perez. "If we weren't here for work, they wouldn't be able to get there."