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AL ASAD, Iraq ? Staff Sgt. Andrew C. Rondon, tower supervisor and crew chief with Marine Air Control Squadron 1, Detachment Alpha scans the runway before authorizing a cargo plane to land June 22. Rondon, a native of Bristol, Conn., is in charge of one of the three crews of air traffic controllers in the detachment.

Photo by SGT. JUAN VARA

Tower crews regulate air traffic on Al Asad

25 Jun 2005 | Sgt. Juan Vara

The Marines from the air traffic control facility here are like police officers who enforce rules and regulations for all ground traffic on the airfield and all air traffic in a five nautical mile radius from the center of the airfield up to 3,000 feet.  In the busiest military airfield in Iraq, they control what could be total confusion.

“If it weren’t for these Marines all the aircraft here would want to go to the same spot at the same time,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew C. Rondon, tower supervisor and crew chief with Marine Air Control Squadron 1, Detachment Alpha.  “They need someone to put a little order in the chaos.”

According to Rondon, the controller’s job is to separate aircraft and provide air traffic control service within the airspace delegated to the detachment.

Among the things they do, the controllers monitor navigational aids and frequencies and interact with other air traffic control facilities regarding matters that affect safety of flight.  They also coordinate with the Marine Air Command and Control System and other combat related organizations affecting missions or combat flow.

And supporting combat operations is what these Marines are all about.  It is their biggest priority and their quick thinking helps the aircraft–whether it is based here or it’s just here refueling in the midst of combat–get to the fight in a safe and expeditious way.

What makes their job interesting is that no two days are alike.  Sergeant Timothy Painter, an air traffic controller from Ambridge, Pa., said each day is unpredictable and their duties never become a routine.  “Everything changes every time we come up,” he said.

“We never know who we’re going to talk to or what are we going to see,” added Rondon, a native of Bristol, Conn.

From time to time the controllers have exciting days.  Rondon said there are many unforeseen emergencies that can happen and anything from loss of cabin pressure in one of the planes, to engine or landing gear failures can spice up their day.

Other things are the visits by high-ranking Marine Corps officials.  Painter recalled the day two months ago when Gen. Michael W. Hagee, Commandant of the Marine Corps, walked up the tower unannounced to find them having an eventful day directing everything from fighter jets to helicopters to commercial airplanes.

“This is a very busy base,” said Painter.  “We support pretty much every kind of aircraft.  And not just American, we also support Russian, British and a lot of other foreign aircraft.”

Though every controller has attended the Naval Tactical Training Center in Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Fla., to learn the basics of their job, their training never stops.

“Every facility we go to is a different school,” said Rondon.  “Every place has different aircraft, regulations and airspaces.  And it’s hard to learn everything for one facility and go to another place and start all over.”

Gunnery Sgt. Giovanni DiMino, detachment operations chief and Indianapolis native, said training and studying constantly is a crucial part of their line of work.  There is absolutely zero tolerance for error when it comes to an air traffic control facility.  “If we make a mistake, people die,” said DiMino.

Safety and situational awareness are keys in running smooth flight operations and the air traffic controllers here are prepared to carry out their duties day after day.  Remaining calm and alert even under the most intense situations, they do their part in helping the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) contribute to the stability and security of Iraq.


- For more information about the Marines reported on in this story, please contact Sgt. Juan Vara by e-mail at varaj@acemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil -
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