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ATCs keep Pope flying around the clock

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Mindy Bloem
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Holidays. Down days. Swing shifts. Mid shifts. You name it and the air traffic controllers work it. 

So who are these tireless workers? They are the ones directing the movement of all those commercial, special operations and bulky cargo aircraft that taxi the Pope flightline day after day, making sure Pope's air operations are done properly so the pilots and aircrew can have the peace of mind they need to perform their mission safely. 

In the cab tower, there are four positions: Flight Data, Ground Control, Local Control and Watch Supervisor. All of the controllers are rated in Flight Data, Ground Control and Local Control; however, watch supervisors require a minimum grade of staff sergeant, three years of ATC experience and at least one year in the facility (in Pope's case, the tower). 

Christina Phorimavong, one of Pope's watch supervisors, used to work in the tower as a staff sergeant. She now holds the same position as a civilian. 

"I love the military, so when I decided to get out I really wanted the chance to continue working with the military and now I do." 

Mrs. Phorimavong is well acquainted with the tower's crazy schedule and even volunteered, along with the other civilians there, to work the Christmas shifts so more Airmen could be with their families. They also worked the other holiday shifts as well. 

She admitted that it can be difficult to work these special days but is worth it in order to provide the chance for Airmen and Soldiers to spend quality time with their families when returning from their deployments. 

Capt. Kelly Stuart, the Airfield Management flight commander, who oversees all of the Airfield Management and ATC operations on Pope, was pleased with an Army reunion her team was able to support this past Christmas. 

"Although it was disappointing that we couldn't afford our Airmen time with their families over the holidays, the reward of seeing more than 300 Army soldiers reunited with their families on Christmas Day after a 15-month deployment was priceless, she said." 

Captain Stuart and her team take satisfaction in the support they offer not only the Air Force but the Army as well. 

"Our airfield is available to support missions around the clock," she said. "The mission of Pope's airfield expands beyond the Air Force; we guarantee the airfield is ready for all rapid deployments of the XVIII Airborne Corps when called upon." 

"Not everybody can do this job, the washout rate is pretty high," Ms. Phorimavong said. "I feel that Air Traffic Controllers are essential to keeping the Air Force moving. We take pride in playing such a key role." 

For Senior Airman Christopher Bahlman, who worked the most recent Thanksgiving and New Year's holidays , part of the appeal is the variety the job offers. 

"Every day is a challenge," he said. "It's always something different. One day you might have one or two aircraft all day, and another day you might have 30; you just never know."
He is also aware of the obstacles those challenges pose but feels confident in the team's ability to overcome such difficulties. 

"Working shifts and keeping in the Air Force lifestyle gets hard sometimes," he said. "Coming off a mid and going to a 7 a.m. commanders call or trying to keep a PT schedule when you have different hours every day can get hectic, but we have good leadership that motivates us to stay in the Air Force mind set. It helps us to remain Airmen first then air traffic controllers." 

As part of that leadership, Captain Stuart realizes the importance of keeping morale high and has even been known to stop by work on major holidays to spend some time with her Airmen and bring them treats. 

"The Airfield Operations Flight is by far the most impressive group of professionals I've ever met," she said. "The Tower and Airfield Management maintains 24/7/365 support.  Everyone is responsible for making sure things are done properly - from the lowest ranking Airman to the Wing Commander. With the caliber of Airmen in today's Air Force, we can count on each and every Airman tackling all challenges at hand." 

Airman Bahlman knows how important it is to get the job done and that everyone plays a part in accomplishing this. 

"The whole tower is responsible," he said. "All Airmen working together to ensure safety and flow of air traffic is known as the 'Tower Team concept' -- from senior master sergeants to airmen first class." 

Captain Stuart also realizes she could not do her job without support from other agencies. 

"First and foremost, our mission is flight safety," she said. "Every day I ensure there are enough people to accomplish the mission and the facilities, to include the airfield, are up to par. Additionally, a great deal of time is spent coordinating with base agencies, to include the Communications Squadron and the Civil Engineer Squadron to sustain our capabilities and 24/7 support."