CAMP BASTION, AFGHANISTAN
CAMP BASTION, HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Two air traffic controllers from Marine Aircraft Control Group 28 recently became the first U.S. Marines in British aviation history to receive the British Certificate of Competency for air traffic control.
During a ceremony Sept. 9 at the flight line of the fifth-busiest airfield controlled by the British Royal Air Force, Staff Sgt. William Chesnutt and Sgt. Sean Redmond were presented the certificates by British RAF Air Commodore Stuart Atha, whose current title is the air officer commanding of the 83rd Expeditionary Air Group.
The two Marines arrived here in April with a portion of Marine Aircraft Group 40 and were immediately assigned as the Marine Corps liaison officers for the air traffic control tower.
"Their job was to coordinate between our aircraft and the British controllers," explained Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Kopp. "Eventually the British saw the value of these Marines and fully integrated them into their team."
Both Marines said that initially they assisted the British controllers with differences in terminology when dealing with Marine Corps pilots from Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan. Eventually, they were given the opportunity to become certified in controlling air assets on the ground.
Upon completion of the ground certification, the British took the next step and had them certified to control aircraft coming in to land and taking off. These certifications took approximately a month with the potential for the Marines to obtain further certifications through the British controllers.
"These guys are excellent," said British RAF Flight Lt. Karen Lofthouse, the deputy senior air traffic control officer of the control tower. "They are an outstanding example to the Marine Corps and we couldn't have asked for anything more."
One of the unique differences between the two Marines and their British counterparts is experience. Between Chesnutt and Redmond, they possess more than 20 years of experience in the field of air traffic control.
When an individual joins the British RAF as an air traffic controller, he or she is sent to a tower almost immediately to serve as an assistant, explained Chesnutt, a Tuleta, Texas, native. After about four years, the assistant is sent to school to be certified as an air traffic controller.
Things worked out differently for the two Marines. After completing recruit training and combat training, Chesnutt and Redmond were sent directly to school to become air traffic controllers. Following the school, the Marines were then sent to a fleet unit and began their job as air traffic controllers.
Redmond actually took a different route from most controllers. He worked in the air traffic control community for five years while in the Navy and for nearly four years in his hometown of Denver before joining the Marine Corps five years ago.
"There really is no difference between our rules and the British," said Redmond. "I think the difference is the complexity of Marine Corps air units compared to the British."
Chesnutt further explained that many of the British controllers work at bases that deal exclusively with either fixed wing aircraft or helicopters. A majority of Marine Corps air stations have both types of aircraft, each with specific safety rules that must be followed to ensure a safe runway.
Another difference between the services is their certifications. The British certification can only be used in the military, while the Marines can take their Federal Aviation Administration-sanctioned certification to any air traffic control tower in the United States.
Soon both Marines will be applying another role they obtained due to receiving their certificates; training new British controllers. Approximately every four months the British RAF rotates new controllers into the tower. Because of their experience and current certifications, both Marines will take on the role of instructing the incoming controllers.
"As we integrated with the British everything seems to be a natural progression," Redmond said about the positive experience in working with the British controllers.
Until their new counterparts arrive, the Marines will continue to help their British peers and possibly earn additional certifications in this joint combat environment.
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