Airspace boundaries
Mark Gravazzi, shift leader and air traffic controller, describes the airspace boundaries to Spc. Josue Bueno, a trainee with Co. F, 2-149th Avn. Regt., at Hood Army Airfield, Fort Hood, Texas, Feb. 10. Bueno is in the process of completing the tower certification training course. (Photo Credit: David San Miguel, Fort Hood Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT HOOD, Texas - Whether it’s monitoring and managing the tactical airspace over North Fort Hood, or training individuals to become tower certified, the staff at the Hood Army Airfield here stand ready to ensure the Army maintains its readiness.

According to Christine L. Sedonic, facility chief, Hood Tower, Directorate of Aviation Operations, in addition to their day-to-day mission, her crew of six air traffic controllers/trainers provides an extensive seven-month program to train military tactical air traffic controllers and assist tactical radar controllers with live approaches to get rated on the equipment.

She states that the program is demanding, intense and requires a thorough training regiment, consisting of four phases that each trainee must successfully complete to graduate. It includes instruction on Army and Fort Hood aviation regulations as well as Federal Aviation Administration policies and procedures – all leading up to certification and a control tower operator license.

For most of the students, that training follows advanced individual training. However, she does admit there are instances where Soldiers are enrolled later in their career because of unique mission requirements, i.e. field training exercises, deployments or any other unit mission that prevents them from initial enrollment.

She notes that not being tower certified does not prevent them from serving their unit in another capacity, such as tactical radar controllers in the field, so some units delay sending their Soldiers immediately.

ATC instruction
Christine L. Sedonic, facility chief, Hood Tower, Directorate of Aviation Operations, coaches Spc. Sydney Willett, Co. F, 2-149th Avn. Regt., as she works her way through training for tower certification at Fort Hood, Texas, Feb. 10. In the background, Spc. Josue M. Bueno, also with Co. F, practices monitoring a helicopter approach prior to getting evaluated. (Photo Credit: David San Miguel, Fort Hood Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

Subsequently, Sedonic added that it’s not at all unusual to see a more senior noncommissioned officer train alongside a young specialist or private.

“What matters here is that each student leaves with the knowledge and skills needed to operate and man a control tower,” she said.

“While we’re training, we’re also monitoring and managing the airspace,” she said. “Our facility is manned Monday through Friday with two shifts, the first from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the second from 4 p.m. to midnight.”

With only six controller/trainers on staff, sometimes she has to juggle the roster to ensure two controllers are on duty to man the tower per Army and FAA regulations.

“Anything less than that would require us to shut down operations,” she said. “In air traffic control, you can’t have any grey areas. You have to really know what the regulation and policy requires.”

It’s adherence to Army and FAA regulations, Sedonic and her team reinforces in the training.

“The units are relying on our facility to teach as much about the control tower and the regulations and policies so that when their Soldiers return, they can be counted upon to be the subject-matter experts. After all, they’re going down range and take over a facility that another unit or branch or service has just left,” she explained. “Our training program is very intense. We train to the highest standard. You have to be very dedicated. You have to be willing to put in more time and effort than just putting your eight hours and going home.”

Lesley Olmstead, air traffic controller and training supervisor, is responsible for training on both shifts.

She said this crew has been working together for some 20-plus years.

“So, we’re very cognizant of what’s going on when we plan our leave,” she said. “We don’t want to jeopardize the training.”

“Here, we’re taking young Soldiers who were not taught the way we were taught in school,” she explained. “Some have been out of school for a couple of years and not in a study program, and now we’re telling them you’re on shift for eight hours, here’s what we’re going to do today. I need you to study at night because when you come in the next day, we’ve got to move on.

“This is our job. This is what we do. We take care of Soldiers,” she added. “We make sure this facility is manned and that the services we provide are top-notch. We’re not skipping a beat and the Soldiers are getting the training they need.”

The training consists of four phases in which Soldiers have 154 training days to complete. These include an indoctrination phase where students are introduced to AR 95-2 (Air Traffic Control, Airfield/Heliport, and Airspace Operations), and must successfully complete a written examination; the primary knowledge phase where students are subjected to closed-book examination on those areas the facility chief deems necessary; the position qualification phase which provides the trainee with hands-on training on each tower position, including written, oral and practical evaluations; and facility rating where the trainee must qualify in all operating positions via a pre-FAA/ATC facility rating examination.

Control tower training
Spc. Josue M. Bueno, a trainee with Co. F, 2-149th Avn. Regt., out of Martindale Army Airfield in San Antonio, Texas, practices procedures to monitor the airspace as part of the tower certification process at Fort Hood, Texas, Feb.10. (Photo Credit: David San Miguel, Fort Hood Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

Mark Gravazzi, shift leader and ATC, explained how they ensure the trainee’s success.

“We make sure the students get sufficient time on position,” he said. “Once we see they’re ready, they’ll get checked out on that particular position and then move on to the next.”

He explained that there are three positions here that the students need to pass.

“They start out on data, then ground control and local,” he said. “When they’re ready on local, that’s when they’re ready to get their facility rating. And then, they’re on their own. They can leave and sign for that position for themselves with minimal to no supervision.”

Spc. Josue M. Bueno, Co. F, 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment, Texas Army National Guard, based at Martindale Army Airfield, San Antonio, said he was excited for this training opportunity because his unit would soon be deploying to Iraq.

“Since I’m with the National Guard, I train on what little equipment we have,” he said. “It’s just enough to keep the people who are already certified, proficient. This program is definitely a big help, especially when you compare this with drills.”

Spc. Sydney Willett, also with Co. F, said she was sitting in limbo after working as a nursing assistant when she came across this opportunity.

“I’m not going to lie,” she said. “I was hesitant at first because I know it’s a big deal, but it was also a great opportunity. This is going to set me up for deployment. I feel as though I’m leaps and bounds ahead of my peers because of this training. It’s going to set us up to help our peers, to provide that extra leadership.”