MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
It is a sizzling summer day in North Carolina as you walk into the air traffic control center where the air conditioner pumps frigid air to keep a host of computers and machines from overheating, beeping sounds fill the room, and to the untrained ear, it sounds like random annoyances. But to Cpl. Kristen Hirst, an air traffic control technician trainee, it sounds like another day at work.
Marines like Hirst receive nearly a year of Military Occupational School training before they ever set foot in a room like this and up to a half-year of on-the-job training after arriving at their duty station. MOS training focuses on gear that a detachment would use while deployed, such as a deployable tower and radar, whereas when arriving to a duty station, their focus shifts to the equipment that is unique to that station.
“The instructors provide guidance on how to properly utilize the equipment we use here to give us better hands-on experience,” said Hirst. “They go over common problems, basic instructions of how the equipment works and how to troubleshoot.”
Trainees shadow certified air traffic control technicians on a daily basis to familiarize themselves with the equipment they will soon be in charge of.
“The additional training the Marines receive ensures that everyone who will be a part of a maintenance crew has extensive knowledge of our equipment,” said Hirst. “Communicators’ knowledge of their equipment has a direct effect on their ability to communicate with aircraft and support their missions. If the controllers cannot communicate with the aircraft, then the controllers cannot do their job and the airfield does not work.”
According to Staff Sgt. Christopher Falk, the coordinator for all three maintenance subsections at air traffic control, there would be no flight operations without communications, radar and navigational aids.
“Gear here is a little bit different,” said Falk. “Including fiber optics and voice switching channel systems, the trainees take basic knowledge and apply it to the equipment here that is not exactly what they are used to.”
According to Falk, trainees get instructed on what the gear they will use, where the gear is located, preventative maintenance, ground inspections and corrective maintenance.
“If there is a trouble call, air traffic control notifies us and we inspect it to see if there are any faults,” said Falk. “We do what we can do to get it back online, because if one of those systems goes down, we do not fly.”
According to Falk, once Marines go through training, they will only stand crew when a certified air traffic control technician approves their training and notifies the trainee’s respective supervisor that the Marine is ready to integrate into the crew.
For Marines like Hirst who are nearing the end of their training, it is only a matter of a being cleared for take off before they are qualified to complete the duties of an air traffic control technician and support the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing’s operations.