AL QAIM, Iraq --
Just like the human body cannot function without a heart and a house could not be built without a foundation, Al Qaim air operations could not work without one group of Marines.
Those Marines are the ones in the Air Boss’ office maintaining air operations and ensuring that everyone in the Forward Arming and Refueling Point is coordinated.
“This is all one coordinated effort here,” said Maj. Robert Morgan, the Al Qaim Air Boss. “We basically de-conflict airspace, update the situational awareness and alert the (Tactical Air Command Center) with situations.”
The air operations Marines primary duty is to manage the airspace in Al Qaim, ensuring that aircraft pilots have the information that they need at any given time.
“We are just like the middle man,” Sgt. Gavvin Ishikawa, an aviation operations specialist, a Miliani, Hawaii native. “We communicate with the aircraft. We coordinate with the skid squadron next door and when they cross the (area of operations); we have to de-conflict them with any aircraft in the area. We communicate between (Al Qaim) and the TACC at Al Asad, on what is going on out here and they take it from there. We are in charge of all the flights.”
The air operations Marines work on three eight hour shifts ensuring that everything runs as smoothly as possible. From getting the birds refueled to getting permission to launch a casevac, the air operations are the catalyst.
“We monitor the mIRC (Internet Relate Chat) and look at certain windows like for a NINE-line,” said Ishikawa. “Once in a while you have aircraft that are crossing airspace going to different bases. When we have the skids take off, we give them a heads up if there is aircraft near by. When the (Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron) guys are flying around, we let the other guys know.”
In addition to managing airspace, the Air Boss office is also in charge of making sure that the rest of the units in Al Qaim have situational awareness. They also coordinate with 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment.
“We are kind of the (Combat Operations Center) of the FARP here,” said Sgt. Jeremiah Smith, an individual augment from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252. “We are in charge of (Indirect Fire) drills and making sure that everyone is coordinated and making everything work.”
The Marines understand the importance of their job and ensure that they are always performing at a high level.
“We are like the nucleus here, so if we are all jacked up, the flights are not coming in on time, no one is going to know information about flights and they are going to get caught of guard,” said Smith. “We’ll have no heads up on anything, so everybody would just be lost.”
At the end of the day, the air operations Marines understand that their performance affects the lives of the people around them.
“Our job is pretty important, because I know that the (UH-1N) Huey's come in handy with the 1/4 Marines,” said Ishikawa. “When they need to move personnel around, like (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) in particular, instead of having to go on convoys where it takes them a while, they can just hop on a helicopter and get there right away. Just helping out the battalion, especially when we get those NINE-lines to launch a casevac, it’s saving their lives.”