July 4th, 2006 14:18 EST
Kirkuk control tower keeps watch day, night by Staff Sgt. Stacy Fowler
KIRKUK AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- Organized chaos. Sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it?
But that is exactly what the 506th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron air traffic control tower technicans keep their eyes on -- all day, every day.
"It's something different every day," said Senior Airman Adam Guerrero, an air traffic control technician with the 506th EOSS. "You could have brush fires, emergencies on the flightline and heavy aircraft flow all at once, or you could have a day where there's nothing really going on except for a few helicopter flights. It's always changing."
Control tower personnel are responsible for airspace in a five-nautical-mile radius around the base, up to and including 4,000 feet mean sea level, the height measurement most aircraft use when flying. Tower personnel direct all air and ground movement of aircraft within this airspace.
Due to the airspace restrictions in the combat environment controllers must be aware at all times of the numerous types of tactical departures and approaches that aircraft execute on a daily basis.
"Unlike our stateside locations, everything is tactical, meaning no two departures or arrivals are the same," said Master Sgt. Frank Lucas, chief controller. "This adds to the complexity of standard operations."
Wide varieties of airframes arrive and depart Kirkuk on a daily basis. They include aircraft like the Heavy Russian AN-124, the C-5 Galaxy, F-16 Fighting Falcons and numerous Army helicopters such as the UH-60 Black Hawk, OH-58D Kiowa and AH-1W/AH-1Z Super Cobra.
"The majority of our mission deals with the Army choppers," said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Solomon, 506th EOSS air traffic control technician. "And when you mix the Army helicopters with the fixed-wing Air Force planes, it can get interesting.
"There are some big challenges when dealing with several different types of airframes, especially when you have to sequence arrivals and departures," Sergeant Solomon said. "Helicopters can hover in one place, but not forever, and trying to balance them and the Air Force planes that are coming in for a landing right now -- you have to keep your eyes open and stay aware."
Another aspect of the air traffic control mission is training Iraqi Airmen in tower operations. Training is scheduled to begin mid-July, and the air traffic control technicians will be the ones responsible for ensuring Iraqi Airmen are ready to take over their own airspace.
"We're enabling them to become self-sufficient," Airman Guerrero said. "We're going to train them just like we were trained: start them with classroom work learning the jargon we use and the basics of air traffic control, and then we'll take them upstairs and lead them through actually dealing with the aircraft. I can't wait to see what their expressions (will be) when they clear an aircraft for arrival or departure -- it's going to be great!"
Some of the challenges with training the Iraqi Air Force will revolve around language barriers and cultural sensitivities, Sergeant Solomon said.
"We have to be sure there aren't any misunderstandings when we're trying to teach them, especially language-wise," he said. "There might be some things we teach that are hard to translate, and those items are the ones we'll take the most time on. But I think it's going to be fine, and we're all going to learn something."
But until the Iraqi air force is ready to take control of the runway, the Airmen in the tower will handle the organized chaos with the same high-caliber work.
"The magnitude of responsibility that the (air traffic control) team has here is immeasurable, and yet they complete their tasks (calmly and with) professionalism each and every day," Sergeant Lucas said.