For Marine air traffic controllers, observing radar for hours on end doesn’t sound so bad compared to looking at radar while rounds are whizzing through the air.
Air traffic controllers with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Headquarters and Support Squadron, are commonly put in dangerous situations like these, more recently in Iraq.
Not only are air traffic controllers tasked with being a rifleman first (note: All Marines are considered to be a rifleman first, regardless of MOS); they also must communicate with domestic and foreign aircrafts while upholding the orderly flow of air traffic.
“As Marines (they) have to adapt under challenging circumstances and perform their duties to the utmost professionalism,” said Gunnery Sgt. Christopher M. Brown, 32, an air traffic controller with 3rd MAW.
And due to Iraq’s environmental constraints, air traffic controllers must rely on ingenuity to institute proper communication with their Marine aircrafts.
“I’ve seen air traffic controllers standing on top of scaffolding with a radio to establish communications,” Brown said.
“One of our lance corporals in Iraq had to get in a tree house,” laughed Cpl. Louie J. Cruz, 21, who will deploy to Iraq next year.
Although setting up impromptu air traffic control towers is important, air traffic controllers do much more when they are deployed.
ATC communicate with pilots to help provide close air support and coordinate casualty evacuations, according to Brown.
“We deal with a lot of pilots’ lives,” said Lance Cpl. Lance J. Heidemann, 21, with 3rd MAW from Oberlin, Ohio.
When air traffic controllers aren’t in country, they’re preparing Marines for future deployments.
“We’re training Marine pilots for war,” said Cpl. Casey C. Conner, 22, with 3rd MAW from Cave Creek, Ariz.
However, the deployment training wouldn’t be possible if the Marines couldn’t manuever the aircrafts safely.
“The most important thing about our job is making sure the planes don’t crash into each other,” said Lance Cpl. Bruce L. Martin, 19, with 3rd MAW from Las Vegas.
Whether it’s the carpeted comfort of Camp Pendleton’s control tower or the desolate air towers in Iraq, air traffic controllers are there to help no matter what clime or place.