News: 24/7: Cherry Point’s airfield facilitates flight line operations round-the-clock
Story by Cpl. Tyler J. Bolken
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. — Every city has its heart, its purpose for being, the thing that it was created for in the first place. Here at Cherry Point, that heart is the airfield. And like the cogs on the wheels in the belly of an antique timepiece, the Marines and civilians who comprise the Airfield Operations department are a key component of what has made this complicated piece of machinery tick since 1941.
Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point isn’t LAX, but as the only 24/7 airfield in the Marine Corps and one of only a few in the United States, Cherry Point never sleeps.
Those full-time operations combined with the air station’s geographic location and runway design provide essential operational and emergency divert services for military and civil defense organizations on the East Coast. Once upon a time, that included the U.S. space shuttles during lift-off from their Florida launch pads.
“It’s full service, just like any major civilian airport,” says Lt. Col. Ken Asbridge, who is in charge of airfield operations. The key difference is that, unlike civilian airports, Cherry Point’s main customers are usually en route to or returning from combat operations overseas.
Asbridge manages the more than 280 personnel, made up of more than 220 Marines and nearly 60 civilians, staffed round-the-clock to make Cherry Point’s 24/7 routine possible. Their duties range from aircraft refueling to air traffic control for outgoing and incoming flights. When a pilot is in trouble, aircraft rescue and firefighting Marines leap into their fire suits and charge into action. Explosive Ordnance Disposal Marines stand ready to handle any returning aircraft ordnance issues, while the Recovery Division operates the air station’s arresting gear systems. The air station has a full-service weather department that provides weather reports and forecasts to assist in flight planning and storm preparation. And visiting aircraft find themselves in professional hands when they arrive, thanks to a team trained to support virtually every type of aircraft that puts its wheels on the long Cherry Point runways.
“It’s a never-ending cycle,” says John Jackson, the airfield manager. Jackson would know – he has been here since 2000 with a good view of airfield operations thanks to his supervisory role as well as the commanding view from his office near the air traffic control tower. According to Jackson, regardless of whether the traffic here is military or commercial, “the airflow is effective and efficient.”
In a virtual sense, Cherry Point’s air traffic control operations are the most visible facet of the airfield ops team. Using sophisticated radar technology, they control more than 5,300 square miles of airspace for all aircraft that pass through Eastern North Carolina. Although their primary mission is to support military flight operations, explains Asbridge, the air traffic controllers here also provide 24/7 ATC services for commercial and general aviation flights throughout the region.
The bulk of airfield operations here are conducted in support of the 13 Marine aviation squadrons, made up of more than 100 aircraft combined, who call Cherry Point home. The resident platforms include AV-8B Harriers, EA-6B Prowlers, KC-130J Hercules, UH-1N Hueys, AH-1W Cobras, CH-53 Super Stallions, C-9B, UC-35D, HH-46E search and rescue helicopters and unmanned aircraft.
All of these aircraft and the Marines responsible for their operation must constantly train to ready themselves for deployments to the far corners of the globe as part of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force. Cherry Point’s primary mission in life is to provide all relevant services in support of those operations – a mission that doesn’t stop when the sun goes down or the weekend rolls around.
“If we had to limit our field hours, it would hamper 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing operations,” says Asbridge.
You can hear aircraft taking off and flying overhead at any time of day here, he adds. Those late-night flights that some find annoying aren’t just for kicks. “We fight wars at night, requiring training at night,” says Asbridge. “It’s about saving Marines’ lives on the battlefield.
“We are very conscious of the annoyance caused by late-night flights, especially during the summer months when the daylight lasts so long,” says Asbridge, “and we work hard to keep that noise to a minimum by adjusting flight patterns and procedures. Ultimately, we realize that we also rely on the positive support we receive from our neighbors.”
Another key wheel in the machine that makes Cherry Point tick is Cherry Point’s Aerial Port of Embarkation. Acting as a military flight terminal, the APOE is manned and operated by Marines from Camp Lejeune-based Combat Logistics Regiment 27. The regiment’s Combat Service Support Detachment 21 works with Airfield Operations to handle all incoming and outgoing cargo and personnel on military and commercial aircraft. The APOE serves as the point of departure to all international and continental United States destinations for most Marine units based at Cherry Point and Camp Lejeune. Other U.S. and foreign military units occasionally pass through the APOE as well.
In 2011, more than 74,000 passengers, nearly 16,000 short tons of cargo and 589 aircraft traveled through the APOE. This year’s numbers are on track to be about the same with more than 52,000 passengers, more than 11,500 short tons of cargo and 419 aircraft already traveling through as of Aug. 20.
Despite their multiple customers and wide range of services provided, the airfield isn’t anywhere near its capacity, says Asbridge, who believes Cherry Point will continue to be a staple in Marine aviation and Eastern North Carolina for at least another 70 years.
“We’re not just working for a paycheck supporting ‘X, Y, Z’ corporation,” says Asbridge. “Our deployed service members are in the fight 24/7 – so the Marines and civilians here never stop working to provide that critical support.”
This work, 24/7: Cherry Point’s airfield facilitates flight line operations round-the-clock, by Sgt Tyler J. Bolken, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.