This aerial symphony could not play out without air traffic controllers at the conductor stand synchronizing the aerial movements of Marine Aircraft Group 40.
Marines from Marine Air Control Group 28 police the dense air traffic by providing all-weather radar and non-radar approaches, departures and tower services for International Security Assistance Forces aircraft here.
“We are like the highway patrol,” said Gunnery Sgt. Alfredo B. Lopez Jr., the Marine mobile air team staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge. “We are the directors of the sky.”
On Sept. 7, to further MACG-28 capabilities, the Marines received new equipment that allows them to initiate contact with incoming aircraft from further distances, identify flight patterns with increased precision, and ensure the safety of Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan aircraft crews.
The Army Navy/Transportable Navigational Aid Air Traffic Navigation, Integration and Coordination System (AN/TPN-31A ATNAVICS) facilitates the air traffic controllers’ ability to identify all aircraft within a certain distance and increases the safety of incoming and outgoing aircraft with thorough radar scans from the back of a Humvee.
“Having it here will increase our capability to cover more distance and will provide radar coverage, recovery and precision landing,” said Capt. Christopher Nolf, the detachment commander.
The enhanced capabilities of this new system will be put to the test here, where rain is not the primary form of bad weather pilots face, but rather sand storms that can nearly blind the pilots as they land.
“The main reason we have the ATNAVICS here is to guide aircraft through inclement weather conditions,” said Staff Sgt. Heriberto Sanchez, the MACG-28 radar chief.
Lopez, accompanied by six Marines, got the system up and running for the controllers here, which is what the Marine mobile air team is all about. An MMT consist of several air traffic controllers, a communication technician, a generator technician, and a heavy equipment mechanic. The team’s primary goal is to set up landing zones as quickly as possible in order to guide aircraft in and out of the area.
“They could drop us off in the middle of the desert and we are expected to hit the ground running, by establishing a 3,000-foot landing strip between 20-25 minutes,” said Lopez. “After about an hour, the whole process is complete and we can guide aircraft in and out.”
Like many of the units out here, MACG-28 is breaking ground with this equipment and providing new experiences to Marines on their first deployment.
“I was used to the station environment, which is totally different compared to a combat environment,” said Sgt. Daniel Laks, an air traffic controller. “Being out here, working longer hours, learning how to do what other Marines in other fields do-it brings us closer.”
As the MEB continues to expand the Marine Corps role in Afghanistan and set up more landing zones for supplies to be brought in to forward troops, the role of the Marines with MACG-28 will be vital.
“I feel that what we do makes a huge difference,” said Lopez. “Setting up LZs has brought aircraft closer to the fight, which saves them time, fuel and they also live where they work. Additionally, the LZs have helped spread out the ground units to all sorts of FOBs and COPs (combat outposts).”
With only a few months left in their deployment, the Marines of MACG-28 laid the foundation for the further development and expansion for Marines in southern Afghanistan. This foundation also secures the ability for Marines on the ground to receive timely air cover when needed in combat.