MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --
Swamp Fox Airmen from the 245th Air Traffic Control Squadron returned recently from a seven-month deployment to Al Asad Air Base in central Iraq. Seventeen air traffic controllers and maintainers from the SCANG joined another dozen Airmen from the Mississippi Air National Guard for the March through October rotation. While there, they beefed up air traffic control capabilities at Al Asad and performed a vital mission requirement that the active duty Air Force could not.
This latest deployment closes out a chapter that began back in the spring of 2016, according to Master Sgt. Thomas Arthur, one of the SCANG’s air traffic controllers. Three years ago, the 245th ATCS was sent to Al Asad because “they needed an IFR, inclement weather/bad weather approach, to the airfield there. They were trying to expand the air base. The active duty Air Force didn’t have the capability for the mobile equipment we had or the controllers to operate it. But the [Air] Guard did. South Carolina joined Mississippi to deploy there and started regular rotations. For this last rotation, we went back with Mississippi again and we took the last rotation out of there. We transitioned from our mobile equipment into a more fixed facility and we closed out and handed it over to the active duty Air Force,” Arthur said.
The Air National Guard played a critical role due to its unique ability and bridged a three-year gap in airspace management at Al Asad. “When you fly, many times there’s cloud layers and you can’t see. The pilots have to rely on their instrument systems. So, whenever you can’t see the runway it’s very hard to land. With the system we have, a controller can talk a pilot all the way down to the ground safely. We call it a precision approach radar. Then they brought in the ILS which is an instrument landing system which can handle that without having to have [our] equipment there. The ILS takes less people to operate it and it’s easier to maintain,” said Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Barnes, who served as operations superintendent at Al Asad.
On a typical day, the Air National Guard was responsible for all the airspace around Al Asad. “Basically we were in charge of handling all the aircraft in and out of that airspace to include all of the mission aircraft. We worked with battlespace management to work through their airspace blocks. Basically, everything they chunk off for us to watch, surveil or to actually run a mission in, we protect that airspace for them. We make sure no aircraft go in there that aren’t supposed to be there. Any air traffic coming in, any airplanes flying overhead or just doing regular missions we would talk to and keep them separated from each other. Any firing missions they would have we would block off huge chunks airspace and make sure nothing came in,” explained Arthur.
In addition to their regular duties, SCANG personnel performed other valuable tasks around the base as well. These tasks included assisting with the base protection plan, filling sandbags for bunkers and assisting the civil engineers with base maintenance.
Looking back, the unit was able to gain a vast amount of real world experience in a relatively short amount of time. “From the ops side, it’s a huge benefit to our drill-status guardsmen to go on a deployment like this. We had seven controllers that had little to no experience and we were able to get them shined up with a lot of training. It’s actually helping us back home too because before it was hard to get them training,” said Arthur.
“On the maintenance side we were able to sign off on over 300 training tasks which is huge. Being in that environment, it re-emphasizes the importance of taking care of your people,” Bradford said.
All SCANG personnel received commander’s coins from the chiefs of maintenance and operations. In addition, Tech. Sgt. Braxton Baughman, a power production maintainer, was recognized by the 321st AEW commander with his commander’s coin. Additionally, Barnes won the Randall D. Headrick Special Achievement award from National Guard Bureau and Bradford won Radar Airfield Weather Systems senior NCO of the Year.