Deployed Forces: ‘Vipers’ provide critical air traffic services to deployed units

| June 25, 2010 | 0 Comments

Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall & Staff Sgt. Mike Alberts
25th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs, 25th Infantry Division

Spc. Barry West, seated, air traffic controller, F Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th General Support Aviation Battalion, Task Force Hammerhead, performs ground control functions while Sgt. Klarke Castellanos, air traffic controller and training noncommissioned officer in charge, also with F Co., provides local control of a departing fixed-wing aircraft at Contingency Operating Base Speicher. (Staff Sgt. Mike Alberts | 25th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs, 25th Infantry Division)CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq – The importance of aviation operations in the current contemporary operating environment in Iraq cannot be overstated with hundreds of movements of troops, supplies and equipment daily. 

These critical aviation operations demand a watchful and experienced air traffic services team to manage the air space in and around U.S. Division-North.

The Soldiers of F Company, “Vipers,” 3rd Battalion, 25th General Support Aviation Battalion, Task Force Hammerhead, provide the necessary over watch for the high-density airspace in and around Contingency Operating Base Speicher. The company is also responsible for all air traffic services, or ATS, operations at Forward Operating Base Warhorse and COB Qayyarah West.

 “We provide coverage for all types of aircraft at our three locations using different facilities, to include both tower and radar capabilities,” explained Lt. Col. Gregory Baker, commander, 3rd Bn. 25th GSAB, TF Hammerhead.

 “Our Soldiers are handling an array of civilian, U.S. State Department and military fixed-wing aircraft, a host of rotary-wing aircraft from all branches of service, and several types of unmanned aerial vehicles.

“It’s a lot of traffic, particularly at COB Speicher, which rivals Charlotte-Douglas International, the eighth largest airport in the U.S., and that airport doesn’t handle UAVs,” Baker continued.

Army aviation’s operational tempo remains high in USD-N, even as Iraq transitions to stability operations, and this tempo translates to a complex and continuously demanding role for the Vipers.

Capt. Matthew Basil, commander, F Co., 3rd Bn., 25th GSAB, TF Hammerhead, discussed the scope of his unit’s responsibilities as these demands increase.

“Here at COB Speicher, we are running two facilities,” Basil said. “We’ve got the tower and the Army Radar Approach Control. On average, the tower is handling about 500 movements a day, while the ARAC is handling around 150 movements a day.” 

“Just the density of aircraft movements we’re looking at 24 hours a day is probably the biggest challenge about Speicher,” Basil said.

Basil also spoke about the other ominous challenge his ATS Soldiers face on a daily basis – weather. Weather has traditionally been a significant challenge with aviation operations as pilots, crews and ATS must contend with the unpredictable changes in weather patterns. 

“In the event that weather conditions are terrible with no visibility, we can pinpoint the aircraft on radar and guide them on an exact glide path and course to a safe landing,” Basil said. “Radar approach is basically our extended eyes.”

On April 12, Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, commanding general, Task Force Marne, hosted a commander’s conference at COB Speicher. Brigade commanders, senior leaders and others were arriving throughout the day in weather so bad the only way to get aircraft in safely was through the use of the ARAC system, with controllers vectoring aircraft in for landing. It was a significant accomplishment and one that was later formally recognized by Cucolo himself.

1st Sgt. Matthew Clark, F Co., 3rd Bn., 25th GSAB, TF Hammerhead, elaborated on the importance of having the ARAC system at his unit’s disposal.  

“Before the existence of the ARAC system, the aircraft would call from 25 miles out and would be instructed to enter the traffic pattern once inside a five-mile ring,” Clark said. “Often, during the time between those calls, many other aircraft would come inbound or outbound and cause congestion. (Radar approach) really helps streamline the traffic flow.”

Clark further explained that he was not surprised that his Soldiers were recognized for their performance during the critical period of bad weather. 

“I think it’s great that the CG came down to recognize our Soldiers, but that’s just a snapshot,” he said. “My Soldiers are handling busy air traffic and keeping the skies safe every day.”

Another task the unit is responsible for is ensuring all four of their ATS facilities are following the same procedures and guidelines. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Mark Stubbs, standardization officer and platoon leader, F Co., 3rd Bn., 25th GSAB, TF Hammerhead, oversees the implementation of these policies.

“My job is to standardize air traffic control facilities operations,” Stubbs said. “(I also serve) as a liaison for the companies, battalions and brigade to division for air traffic control matters. (I ensure each facility is doing) the same thing across the board, to include following published regulations, field manuals and (Federal Aviation Administration) rules and guidelines.” 

Category: Deployed Forces, News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *