Story by SSgt Laura Montgomery on 08/05/2019Recently, nearly 50 members of the 235th Air Traffic Control Squadron joined with members from the New Hampshire and Maine Air National Guard heading to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to assist the 1st Combat Communications Squadron, an active duty unit, with training on setting up, utilizing, and tearing down a mobile air traffic control tower and deployable tactical air navigation system.
With so many units communicating and working to train together, much information was learned and shared during the experience.
"New Hampshire's come here before on one of their AT's (annual training), so we got to know a little bit about them," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. James Bellissimo, controller for the 235th Air Traffic Controller Squadron, "Our controllers hangout with theirs and the maintenance hung out with maintenance so it was like building a team where we talked about different ideas from different places. They may have a certain way of doing something that helps us out and we may have a way of doing something that helps them out."
While the units were assisting an active duty station, an expeditionary guard component works very differently from the active side.
"My biggest gain from this experience was the fact that I learned that, being a mobile unit with expeditionary skills, which have nothing to with your job like loading aircraft, packing pallets, and coordinating aerial ports and aircrew, a lot of those are crucial skills," said Staff Sgt. William Lucas, radar airfield weather systems technician with the 235th Air Traffic Control Squadron. "It's easy to view yourself as just an air traffic controller or radar airfield weather systems technician, but that's not the case in an expeditionary environment; you are a truck driver, you're setting up tents, fueling generators, any number of things."
Lucas joined the North Carolina Air National Guard nearly three years ago after leaving the Maintenance Group at Pope Army Airfield; he has, along with his parent and sibling, all served in the Air Force in some form.
"I just wanted to try something new, and being in the military in the reserve capacity gives you the unique opportunity to do so," said Lucas.
Every job comes with perks and challenges.
"My favorite part of this job is when you have an issue that's been plaguing this radar for months and you've been beating your head up against it and you finally have this Ah-ha' moment," said Lucas. "At the end of the day, we say it looks good, but one thing that's important to remember as a radar airfield weather systems technician is we're serving the controllers, it's what they like to use. The job's not done until they say that we can use this safely."
With constant technological changes and differences between airfields at each base, air traffic controllers are in a constant state of training.
"My biggest challenge in air traffic control is the training, because it never stops," said Bellissimo. "It's stressful at times. Every air field is different; so if I go to a different tower I have to go back into training and learn how they do it and re-learn certain things."
The multi-unit stand-up trained in different activities including setting up the mobile tower, generator training, mobile tactical air navigation system training, site survey training, and cad welding training.
"We were there to help 1st Combat communications, so we brought our mobile tower there and showed them how to use an MSN-7; it was a lot of people's first time actually seeing the equipment and getting hands on with it," said Bellissimo. "It was a good experience to see our whole unit mobilize and go to a European country and act like a real-world deployment, coordinate and welcome active duty and be welcomed by active duty, and we helped each other out."
It was a successful training mission resulting in cohesive unit learning and teaching between the Guard and Active Duty forces.
"I thought it was really cool," said Lucas. "It was a prime example of total force integration because you always see active duty taking the lead on showing the guard and reserves things, but it's a two-way street."