Support Ops - Making mission happen in 309th Airlift Squadron
May 3, 2010
CHIEVRES, Belgium - As springtime is in full swing and people patiently await summer, it is not only farming season in Belgium, but it also happens to be the season for inspections. The 309th Airlift Squadron, located on ChiAfA..vres Air Base, is getting ready to host a series of inspections in May - one of those being the Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe Air Traffic Systems Evaluation Program inspection.
Starting May 17, the unit will welcome a number of inspectors from Germany to evaluate the various processes and programs carried out within the different sections of the 309th Airlift Squadron. These inspectors will be able to see firsthand the hard work, diligence and professionalism on display in Airfield Management, Air Traffic Control, Civil Engineering and Comm Airfield Systems.
"Preparing for this inspection is no easy task, as it requires a team effort and a vast amount of time on behalf of many different sections in the squadron and the Army Garrison," said Maj. Jay Donelson, the Support Operations officer for the 309th Airlift Squadron. "We have been working hard and look forward to showcasing our Airmen and processes and showing what we have accomplished since our last ATSEP inspection in 2008."
There are several different independent missions occurring daily at ChiAfA..vres Garrison. Being a tenant unit, not to mention a different service, the mission of the 309th Airlift Squadron may not be known to everyone.
"As an Air Force squadron performing a NATO mission on an Army base in Belgium, we are here to directly support the SACEUR and other Distinguished Visitor arrivals and departures. We have an incredible track record of providing outstanding support," said Lt. Col. Mike Dickinson, the commander of the 309th.
The members of the squadron make running and operating an airfield look easy. However, it is the collective daily efforts of all those members that make it a smooth operation.
"Sure there are challenges here and there, " said Master Sgt. Jim White, the Airfield manager, "but in the end, it's our job to provide timely, reliable and safe airfield and airlift support. We do that very well in the 309th."
Every day the airfield is open, newly-promoted Staff Sgts. Eric Fricke and Joshua Salsbury scope out the asphalt and concrete that make up the taxiways and runway on ChiAfA..vres Air Base.
They look for anything that could impact safe aircraft operations on the airfield. The airfield will not open until one of these two Airmen gives their thumbs up.
White and his small team of three dedicated professionals are considered the centerpiece for airfield operations, commonly called "AM ops." If anything happens on or around the airfield, it first must be coordinated through AM ops office.
Besides being in charge of the airfield schedule and coordinating all efforts required to support the SACEUR's C-37A aircraft, the Army UH-60 Helicopters or any other transient aircraft that needs to utilize ChiAfA..vres Air Base, AM ops works through all problems associated with pavement or airfield lighting.
Additionally, they are the focal point for snow removal, bird avoidance, airfield driving and coordinating maintenance on the airfield with Civil Engineering.
Tucked away in the back corner of Caserne Daumerie, a small annex to ChiAfA..vres Air Base, resides the Airfield Systems Work Center. This team of seven personnel is responsible for the maintenance of the airfield navigation systems and air traffic control radio equipment vital to flight operations at ChiAfA..vres.
These technicians are on call 24/7, rain or shine. They must be ready at all times to respond to equipment outages in order to keep ChiAfA..vres airfield open.
"We are always ready to support the mission and ensure that the SACEUR and other Distinguished Visitors arrive and depart on time, regardless of weather conditions-that's our job," said Tech. Sgt. Andrew Horton, Airfield Systems NCOIC.
Their responsiveness was demonstrated this past winter when the Tactical Air Navigation system went out-of-service. The technicians worked tirelessly to diagnose the problem and fix the broken equipment.
That day was typical - they worked until 11:30 p.m. - another 15-and-a-half hour day.
This is just one example of the dedicated professionals in the squadron that ensure top-notch results and outstanding service to NATO's highest ranking senior leaders.
If there is one phrase that could be used to describe Tech. Sgt. Chad Schrage, it would be "problem solver." As the 309th Civil Engineer, he consolidates all airfield deficiencies and coordinates for their swift resolution.
His primary duty is to resolve problems and complete upgrades specific to the airfield environment. He also coordinates for work requests associated with all squadron buildings and facilities.
If it needs to be fixed, improved, removed, demolished, painted, built or installed, Schrage knows where to go to get it done.
"ChiAfA..vres is an old air base, and the signs of aging are all over the airfield and the facilities. We work hard to correct those issues before they become a real problem," said Schrage.
As a one-man shop, he spends most of his time coordinating projects with the garrison Department of Public Works who then helps hash out the details of any particular project.
"Given the number of projects that the Air Force requests on the airfield, it is no surprise that we have a very close working relationship with DPW," he said.
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL
On the south side of the airfield, three floors up, Chief Controller Master Sgt. Janet Rowe and her crew of four tower controllers own the airspace from the ground to 2,500 feet up. The tower is considered the "drawbridge" for aircraft access to ChiAfA..vres Air Base.
"A lot of work behind the scenes has to happen in order to support on-time departures and arrivals, and the contributions of Air Traffic Control are critical to the mission" said Tech. Sgt. Carla Hoffman, the Air Traffic Control Training and Standardization NCOIC.
Last year, the airfield supported 3,700 arriving and departing aircraft, and maintained a 24/7, 365 day support capability.
The primary method of communicating with aircraft and personnel on the airfield is via radio. Tower controllers utilize a precise and unique language to communicate effectively. There are no first or last names used over the phone or radios, just initials and specific call-signs. This prevents any confusion with aircraft or within the Control Tower.
"Obviously, safety is paramount to aviation, and we take every precaution to ensure that we continue to operate as safely as possible here at ChiAfA..vres," said Rowe, also known as "JT" in Air Traffic Control world.
As the 309th Airlift Squadron rolls into its ATSEP inspection, Donelson said his team is ready. "The entire squadron has worked extremely hard over the last year preparing for this inspection," he said. "I'm proud of what we have accomplished and eager to have USAFE validate our processes."