By Spc. Jovi PrevotOctober 27, 2017
ST CROIX, U.S. Virgin Islands - The Mississippi National Guard responded to Hurricanes Maria and Irma by sending an element from an Air Traffic Control Squadron to assist in hurricane relief operations October 20, 2017.
Seventeen Airmen of 248th Air Traffic Control Squadron control the airspace for all flights in and out of the island of St. Croix.
"We are here to support the air operations on St. Croix," said Mississippi Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Clifton McDonald, a radar maintenance craftsman with the 248th. "We have both military and civilian aircraft that are flying in and out of this airfield on a daily basis."
Normally, an air traffic control unit would be working out of an existing tower, but these Airmen brought their own.
"When Hurricane Irma came through the island, it rendered the fixed tower inoperable, so therefore we were called to support by bringing a tower," said McDonald.
The mobile tower the unit brought is a great temporary solution until repairs are complete on the fixed one.
"Our facility is capable of everything their facility is, it's just in a smaller, deployable package," said Mississippi Air National Guard Master Sgt. Tom Cates, a chief air traffic controller with the 248th.
The squadron is in charge of all air operations on St. Croix.
"Whether they are military or civilian it doesn't matter, they get the same service. We control everything in and out," said Cates.
Shortly after landing on the island, the Guardsmen got to work.
"We landed here on Tuesday, the 26th, at about (7 a.m.) and we were ready to go at (7 p.m.) same day. We are trained to be operational within 12 hours," said Cates. "Our unit is ready to do this sort of mission anywhere in the world within 72 hours."
With so many flights coming in each day, they haven't stopped working since they arrived.
"In our time here, we have put in over 2,000 man hours," said Cates. "Here, we average 150 to 180 flights each day."
In addition to air traffic controllers, the 248th has a team to ensure they remain operational.
There are many different aspects needed for this type of mission, said McDonald.
"There are generators to run the tower. There are also radios, weather sensors and antennas. This is where we as maintainers come in," said McDonald.
The maintainers are also reaching out to support other units.
The mechanics have been able to fix eight generators and four HVAC systems belonging to various organizations here at the airfield, said Cates.
The experience has given them valuable knowledge for future operations.
"We train for situations like this, but when we actually get into this situation, it lets us know how we can get better, maybe what we are deficient on. It creates improvement for both maintainers and air traffic controllers," said McDonald
The perspective gained wasn't the greatest value found, job satisfaction was.
"This is what we train for, this is our job. Our job is to come out here and provide whatever kind of support is necessary. And being an air traffic control unit is what we do. We come out here, we set up a tower, we get planes in, we get planes out. This is why you join," said McDonald.