Whether monitoring and managing the tactical airspace above North Fort Hood or training individuals to become certified for the tower, Hood Army Airfield personnel is ready to make sure the army stays ready.
According to Christine L. Sedonic, Installation Manager, Hood Tower, Branch of Aviation Operations, in addition to their day-to-day duty, her crew of six air traffic controllers/trainers provide an extensive seven-month program to train military tactical air traffic controllers and assist tactical radar controllers with live approaches to get assessed on equipment.
She says the program is demanding, intense and requires an extensive training regiment, consisting of four phases that each trainee must pass in order to graduate. It includes instruction on Army and Fort Hood aviation regulations as well as Federal Aviation Administration policies and procedures – all leading to certification and a control tower operator license.
For most students, this training follows extensive individual training. However, she admits that there are cases where soldiers are enlisted later in their career due to unique mission requirements, i.e. field training exercises, deployments or any another unit mission that prevents them from enlisting initially.
She notes that not being tower certified does not prevent them from serving their unit in another capacity, such as tactical radar controllers in the field, so some units immediately delay sending their soldiers.
Afterwards, Sedonic added that it is not at all unusual to see a senior non-commissioned officer training alongside a young specialist or soldier.
“What matters here is that each student leaves with the knowledge and skills necessary to operate and manage a control tower,” she said.
“As we train, we also monitor and manage the airspace,” she said. “Our establishment is busy Monday through Friday with two shifts, the first from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and the second from 4:00 p.m. to midnight.”
With only six controllers/trainers on staff, she sometimes has to juggle the roster to ensure two controllers are on duty to run the tower in accordance with Army and FAA regulations.
“Anything less than that would force us to halt operations,” she said. “In air traffic control, you can’t have gray areas. You really need to know what the regulations and policy require.
It is adherence to Army and FAA regulations that Sedonic and his team reinforce during training.
“Units rely on our facilities to learn as much as possible about the control tower, regulations and policies so that when their soldiers return, they can be counted on to be the subject matter experts. After all, they come down and take over a facility that another unit, branch or department just left,” she explained. “Our training program is very intense. We train at the highest level. You have to be very dedicated. You have to be prepared to put in more time and effort than just going through your eight hours and going home.
Lesley Olmstead, air traffic controller and training supervisor, is responsible for training on both shifts.
She said this crew had worked together for more than 20 years.
“So we’re very aware of what’s going on when we’re planning our discharge,” she said. “We don’t want to compromise training.
“Here, we take young soldiers who have not been educated as we were taught at school,” she explains. “Some have been out of school for a few years and not in a degree program, and now we’re telling them you’re on duty for eight hours, here’s what we’re going to do today. I need that you study at night because when you come back the next day, we have to move on.
“It’s our job. This is what we do. We take care of the soldiers,” she added. “We make sure this facility is busy and the services we provide are top notch. We are wasting no time and the soldiers are getting the training they need.
The training consists of four phases in which soldiers have 154 days of training to complete. These include an indoctrination phase where students are introduced to AR 95-2 (Air Traffic Control, Aerodrome/Heliport and Airspace Operations) and must pass a written exam; the primary knowledge phase where students are subjected to a closed-book examination on the areas that the head of the establishment deems necessary; the position qualification phase which provides the trainee with practical training on each tower position, including written, oral and practical assessments; and Installation Qualification where the trainee must qualify in all operating positions via a pre-FAA/ATC Installation Qualification exam.
Mark Gravazzi, Team Leader and ATC, explained how they ensure the success of the intern.
“We make sure that students spend enough time in post,” he said. “Once we see they are ready, they will be checked on that particular position and then move on to the next one.”
He explained that there are three positions here that students must pass.
“They start with data, then ground and local control,” he said. “When they’re ready in the local market, that’s when they’re ready to get their installation rating. And then they are alone. They can leave and sign for this position on their own with little or no supervision. »
SPC. Josue M. Bueno, Co. F, 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment, Texas Army National Guard, based at Martindale Army Airfield, San Antonio, said he was excited for the training opportunity as his unit would soon be deploying in Iraq.
“Since I’ve been in the National Guard, I’ve been training with what little equipment we have,” he said. “It’s just enough to keep people who are already certified competent. This program is definitely a big help, especially when you compare it with exercises. »
SPC. Sydney Willett, also with Co. F, said she was sitting in limbo after working as a nursing assistant when she got the opportunity.
“I’m not going to lie,” she said. “I was hesitant at first because I know it’s a big deal, but it was also a great opportunity. This will prepare me for deployment. I feel like I’m one step ahead of my peers with this training. It’s going to prepare us to help our peers, to provide that extra leadership.