Air Traffic Services control the skies

Air Traffic Services control the skies

Nashville, Tenn., resident Sgt. Brian Bertram, Glendale, Ariz., resident Sgt. Nicholas Robinson, San Tan Valley, Ariz., resident Cpt. Sherri Gregoire, Tucson, Ariz., resident 1st Sgt. Trevor Varney, and Phoenix resident Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Stockard gather outside their company headquarters for Company F, 1st Battalion, 168th Air Traffic Services, 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, at Camp Buehring Kuwait, Feb. 8. Capt. Gregoire and 1st Sgt. Varney are the command team for Company F, which provides Air Traffic Services for all friendly aviation assets. (Photo by 1st Lt. Aaron DeCapua, 40th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs)

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – Imagine for a moment you’re in the cockpit of a $30 million helicopter. You’re monitoring gauges, and controlling the aircraft as you fly back to home base the morning flight was pretty uneventful, weather was predicted to be good. You’re low on fuel, and can’t wait to get home for a quick meal and some rest after a long mission.


 On your inbound approach you call the tower to get an airfield status on weather. Instead of the clear blue sky giving you the visibility needed to land safely, you get some bad news: a dust storm has appeared in vicinity of the airfield. You look out the window and see a giant tan wall of dust completely obscuring your approach.


 Not having enough fuel to turn back you must commit to the approach. Except that you won’t be able to see the ground. What do you do, who do you call? In cases like the scenario above, pilots must resort to their instruments, and the skilled guidance of Air Traffic Services to help them bring the aircraft safely to the ground.


 Arizona Army National Guard’s Company F, 1st Battalion, 168th Air Traffic Services, is a small company stationed with the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade at Camp Arifjan and Camp Buehring, Kuwait. ATS is made up of seasoned personnel with the experience needed to support aviators in safely completing their mission.


 "Company F operates 24 hours a day, with less than 45 personnel across two countries and three airfields,” said Capt. Sherri Gregoire, a San Tan Valley, Arizona, resident and the ATS commander. “We maintain safety of the skies so pilots can focus on their mission and not worry about a mid-air [collision].”


Company F’s overall mission is to provide air traffic control services to American, NATO and host nation aircraft operating within U.S. ARCENT’s area of responsibility. At Camp Buehring, Company F Soldiers operate the Ground Control Approach Facility, work in the tower and Airspace Information Center alongside civilian contractors.


 When an aircraft is threatened by adverse weather conditions, ATS Soldiers can radio instructions to the pilots allowing them to approach the airfield and set down safely.


“ATS uses the Air Traffic Navigation, Integration and Coordination System,” said Sgt. Brian J. Bertram, an air traffic control operator from Nashville, Tennessee, who has deployed three times previously. The ATNAVICS is equipped with a radar dish with a range of 60 nautical miles, and an antenna which gives precise aircraft locations.


“The dome is pressurized and temperature controlled to keep the dome upright and to keep instruments cool,” said Spc. Eric Glenn, a Tucson, Arizona, resident currently on his second deployment with the 40th CAB. “One must enter through a double door airlock, similar in principle in to the fictional movie The Martian, when Matt Daemon had to walk into the HAB.”


Several Company F soldiers have civilian experience relating to their mission operational specialty.


“Military service in my family is a strong tradition. I also like telling pilots what to do,” Glenn said. “I am also a civilian-rated pilot; for me it comes full circle, as pilots are calling into ATS you can inform pilots of conditions or situations occurring in front of them prior to it happening that mitigates hazards. Understanding both perspectives in the air and on the ground keeps our military pilots airborne, and safe.”


Gregoire is unique as a company commander; most ATS units receive a newly minted aviation commander. Gregoire is branched as an adjutant general (AG) or administrative officer in the Army National Guard the difference is she brings 22 years of military, civilian and contractor experience as a certified air traffic controller. Thanks to this unique blend of qualifications, Gregoire can not only direct her Soldiers in ATS operations, but is knowledgeable in the administrative needs of her Soldiers.


 First Sgt. Trevor Varney, a resident of Tucson, Arizona, is the senior enlisted member of Company F. This is a rare time in which an ATS Company’s first sergeant and commander are both certified air traffic controllers.


“In every aspect of Fox Company ATS you will find the professional definition of citizen soldiers,” said Command Sgt. Major Troy Eck, the 40th CAB command sergeant major.