News: Oklahoma National Guard Soldiers run, improve vital airfield
Story by Spc. Jennifer Spradlin
MULTI NATIONAL BASE TARIN KOT, Afghanistan – The effective movement of troops and cargo by air is essential to the coalition force's mission capabilities in Afghanistan, a country with mountainous terrain and few paved roads.
At Multi National Base Tarin Kot, soldiers from the first of the 245th Aviation Operations Battalion, Oklahoma National Guard, directly impact the success of the air movement mission with their daily role in airfield operations and maintenance.
“Here at TK our job is to run the airfield,” said Cpt. Andy Snow, 1-245th AOB airfield manager. “We have air traffic controllers. We have an airfield management element. We liaison with the movement control teams who load unload aircraft, interact with fuelers and work with engineers to make sure the standards that govern how things should be built are being met.”
Snow said that the operation was similar to running a mid-sized civilian airport back in the United States and represented a “newer concept” for the Army in terms of troop organization. This is only the second AOB to be deployed, the first to Afghanistan.
“We are writing the book here in Afghanistan for [AOBs],” said Snow, a Norman, Okla., native. Since all functions of the airfield at TK fall under their responsibility, the unit is developing new standards and procedures that will be used to aid future AOBs. “We’re learning things every day. Everything we do is on the forefront.”
In addition to the constant arrival and departure of fixed wing and rotary aircraft, a major construction project is underway to upgrade the conditions of the runway and aircraft parking areas.
“Before it was all dirt runway,” said Master Sgt. Paul Bearden, non-commissioned officer in charge of airfield management, 1-245th AOB. “Now what we are trying to do is get it all to a concrete runway that will improve safety and lessen the impact of weather.”
Aircraft have better braking capabilities on concrete and can land with heavier cargo loads. When the concrete replaces the current gravel parking areas, the aircraft will also face less risk of damage from jet blast kicking up rocks onto the windshield. The 1-245th AOB is also overseeing the construction of office buildings and passenger check-ins.
“Right now our biggest goal is to have the runway complete by early 2011,” said Bearden, an Anthony, Texas, native. Bearden explained that the timeline could vary based on the availability of supplies and workers. The construction project is a balance between increasing capabilities for the future and ensuring current operations are not negatively impacted. “We are a medium between the contractors, the workforce and the FOB [forward operating base].”
Careful coordination is essential to running an airfield where more than 100 flights arrive and depart daily; including combat and medical evacuation aircraft. None more important than with the soldiers running the air traffic control tower.
“Communication is vital in all aspects of what we do,” said Staff Sgt. Aaron Ashworth, air traffic control facility chief, 1-245th AOB. “Our whole job as air traffic controllers is to communicate with aircraft and provide them safe, expeditious flow of traffic.”
Air traffic controllers are responsible for “de-conflicting air space” or making sure aircraft have enough vertical and horizontal distance from each other to prevent mid-air collisions. As combat events unfold quickly, it can become stressful for the three-soldier teams inside the air traffic control tower.
“Training, training, training, until it becomes second nature,” is the way to combat stress, said Ashworth, a Tulsa, Okla., native, who deployed twice previously to Iraq. The importance of equipment and skills confidence is why training is the focus while the unit is back in Oklahoma.
Ashworth said that as the deployment continues, standardization, quality assurance, and meeting international safety regulations will be the focus for not only the air traffic controller soldiers, but all of the 1-245th AOB soldiers. Like the units that ran the airfield before them, he said, they wanted to provide a better facility for the future coalition forces and also the Afghan people.
“The long term result is that the flightline will be turned over to the host nation and it will be a civilian terminal, but until that actually happens, we’re making it a safer place for air traffic,” said Snow. “It’s going to be a lifeline for the coalition forces here and then transition to a lifeline for the Uruzgan province.”