An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Hit the Ground Running

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Todd Wivell
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Editors note: Some combat control instructors and all trainees are identified by their rank and first name only. This article covers weeks 11 and 12 of a 13-week series.

The flight has taken several hours but to the combat controller on board it seems like it has gone by in minutes. He is preparing for one of the most intense missions of his career. He is about to establish a landing zone. The landing zone is used for the purpose of positioning troops and supplies at a battlefield location. It is used as a landing strip for C-130s, C-17s and other aircraft. It is the lifeline to the overall mission. 

The success of the mission relies on the combat controller's ability to establish the landing zone. 

This is what the 16 trainees of Class 09-003 have learned during weeks 11 and 12 of their 13-week training at the Combat Control School at Pope. The two weeks consisted of establishing airfield markings, command and control of the airfield, management of landing zone operations and their first aircraft jump since starting their training at the CCS. 

"The primary goal of this instruction is to teach the trainees how to differentiate between conventional air traffic control at a base such as Pope and at a forward tactical air base," said Tim Sullivan, a civilian CCS instructor. "We teach the students how the job of a combat controller as the interim airfield manager involves duties much broader than that of a fixed base air traffic controller." 

A landing zone, in combat control terms, is a landing strip which can be anything from a highway, a dirt field or a dried up river bed to an existing air strip in a deployed location. Management of the landing zone focuses on the skill of a combat controller to coordinate with other units located at the forward airfield in order to safely conduct air operations. 

These established landing zones can be used for everything including loading and unloading aircraft, treatment and transportation of the wounded, fueling of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft and transporting security elements and artillery units that have weapons in place to engage nearby enemy targets. 

"Each team member on a landing zone has a particular job to do, but each man must thoroughly know his duties in addition to the duties of every other teammate," said Mr. Sullivan speaking of teamwork. "There is always the possibility that a team member could get injured or for some other reason unable to make it to the objective area. In those cases every man has to pitch in to accomplish his missing teammate's duties." 

The 16 trainees of Class 09-003 have learned throughout these last 12 weeks that the ability to overcome obstacles and maintaining good time management is at the backbone of each and every successful mission. 

"Time is of the essence when it comes to landing zone management," said Staff Sgt. Tim, a CCS instructor. "If the team members communicate effectively amongst each other and use time to their advantage, they will establish an effective landing zone within the allotted time. 

"They must be able to quickly assess what is in the area, if they can effectively set up a landing zone and if the area is big enough to land certain types of aircraft. They have to secure the airfield as quickly as possible to ensure safe landing of those aircraft. They must do all of this within a short amount of time." 

All of this landing zone training, along with what the trainees have learned over the last 12 weeks, will be put to the final test when the 16 trainees are sent out to the field for a final evaluation during the week 13 Field Training Exercise. This evaluation will ultimately test whether these men have what it takes to become the next group combat controllers and whether they have earned the honor of wearing the red beret.