TF Mustang ATCs and GCA technicians serve and increase FAA ratings

By Capt. Steven Wesolowski, 36th CAB Public AffairsFebruary 1, 2023

TF Mustang ATCs and GCA technicians serve and increase FAA ratings
U.S. Army Spc. Isaac Bernardy (standing) and Spc. Haley McMurray, both assigned ATCs from F/2-149th GSAB, review aircraft arrival logs and procedures at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Jan. 20, 2023. (Photo Credit: Capt. Steven L. Wesolowski, 36th CAB Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – Since late summer of 2022, select aviation Soldiers of the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB), “Task Force Mustang,” 36 Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG), perform daily duties in supporting aircraft take-offs and arrivals from numerous flight missions conducted across the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibilities (CENTCOM AOR).

Air traffic controllers (ATCs) and ground-controlled approach technicians (GCAs) of Foxtrot Company, 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment, General Support Aviation Battalion (GSAB), 36th CAB, are held responsible for ensuring all military aircraft approaching and entering CBKU’s air space have proper flight following as well as coordination of taxiing and landing at multiple outstations across the Middle East.

Regardless of the type of mission warfighters are airlifted to, detailed accountability is taken of every rotary wing that takes off to the outstations and returns to the camp’s historical Udairi Landing Zone, 24/7.



TF Mustang ATCs and GCA technicians serve and increase FAA ratings
U.S. Army Spc. Isaac Bernardy, ATC from F/2-149th GSAB, calls in an air traffic control procedure to an aviation unit's operations center associated with the AH-64 Apache helicopter arriving to the Udairi Landing Zone in Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Jan. 20, 2023. (Photo Credit: Capt. Steven L. Wesolowski, 36th CAB Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

U.S. Army Capt. Bobby K. Woods, commander of Foxtrot Company, shared how proud he was of his Soldiers’ commitment to controlling and guiding aircraft on and off the flight line.

“These sustainment operations are conducted by our Soldiers with a sole focus on supporting our pilots,” said Woods. “A lot of flight risk is involved when a pilot requires immediate assistance in the event of reduced visibility during an approach and landing. So, our Soldiers require staying alert to guiding them in safely.”

Woods is also a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilot with previous tours in Afghanistan and state emergency response operations with 2-149th GSAB.

“I have found our work to be pivotal for all of our pilots across the task force, and for our coalition partners,” he added. “I am very proud of our Soldiers taking on their levels of responsibility necessary to keep risk low throughout our time here as the CAB’s premier air traffic service (ATS).”

U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Robert Calogero, first sergeant of Foxtrot Company, holds a career as an Army aviation operations specialist, now managing the company’s personnel. He monitors the formation and provides senior leaders first-hand tours of the facilities their Soldiers use to execute their respective flight following missions and sustain flight operations.

“Our company is broken down into multiple facilities across the CENTCOM AOR,” said Calogero. “Here at Camp Buehring, we have one platoon that rotates the ATCs at our air traffic control towers (ATCTs), and another platoon that focuses on GCA tasks with managing the MOTS capabilities in other regions and radar systems maintenance. Data gathering of every aircraft is constantly processed by our Soldiers, and they are always talking to the pilots in order to accurately coordinate all movements.”

TF Mustang ATCs and GCA technicians serve and increase FAA ratings
U.S. Army 1st. Sgt. Robert Calogero of Foxtrot Company, 2-149th GSAB (left), accompanies senior leader Command Sgt. Maj. Derek Renfer from 449th Aviation Support Battalion, 36th CAB, during an NCO function held at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Dec. 29, 2022. (Photo Credit: Capt. Priya Phillips, TF Mustang Judge Advocate) VIEW ORIGINAL

MOTS, known as Mobile Tower System, serves as a rapidly-deployable and highly mobile ATC tower and Airfield Lighting System (ALS) that can establish ATS for military and civilian aircraft within any given area of operations in a matter of minutes, according to the U.S. Army’s 2020 Aviation Mission Systems and Architecture (AMSA) overview.

Upgrades to Army aviation MOTS and ATC technology have gradually increased over the past 20 years, and Foxtrot Company deploys the latest AN/MSQ-135 MOTS version to remote areas outside of Kuwait wherever Army aircraft are ordered to, alongside an array of various radar and automation systems.

“For the amount of ATC equipment that we bring from the TXARNG to the Middle East, teamwork across our company is essential,” Calogero added. “They coincide with one another to ensure consistent operations. These guys have to stay ontop of their toes when on call. Our ATS program is treated just like the pilots and crew members—we have required rest cycles, flight physicals, academics, and physical fitness standards for this work.”

TF Mustang ATCs and GCA technicians serve and increase FAA ratings
U.S. Army AN/MSQ-135 Mobile Tower System established on the back of a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle by Foxtrot Company, 2nd Battalion, 149th General Support Aviation Battalion, 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, "Task Force Mustang," deployed in the Middle East, January 2023. (Photo Credit: photo courtesy of F/2-149th GSAB) VIEW ORIGINAL

In addition to the ATS program, Foxtrot Company’s Soldiers assigned to control tower duty pursue Control Tower Operator (CTO) certifications and Air Traffic Safety Oversight credentials mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Qualifications for their FAA ratings are exclusively designed for all DoD civilian and military personnel engaged in ATC activities.

Staff Sgt. Sean Boulet, NCOIC for five Army ATCs at the Udairi ATCT, shared how the experience has been since the CAB’s pre-mobilization.

“Our team has accomplished a lot since called onto Title 10 orders. All of us were originally assigned as members of the Tactical Airspace Integration System (TAIS) team before we arrived here,” said Boulet. “During our mobilization, we were actually the first TAIS team to undergo the ATC training program at Fort Hood’s Robert Gray Army Airfield as part of our preparation for this mission.”

TF Mustang ATCs and GCA technicians serve and increase FAA ratings
Staff Sgt. Sean Boulet, control tower NCOIC from Foxtrot Company, 2-149th GSAB, directs Spc. Christian Edwards, air traffic controller from Foxtrot Company, towards details pertaining to an AH-64 Apache helicopter conducting an arrival and landing at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Jan. 20, 2023. (Photo Credit: Capt. Steven L. Wesolowski, 36th CAB Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

Boulet noted that their ATC training for CTO certifications continued while on mission, since various levels of FAA ratings depend on the type of facility and can range from several months to nearly a full year of required training. DoD civilian ATCs also stationed at Camp Buehring with qualified FAA ratings support Soldiers pursuing their certifications, to include coordinating CTO examiners for each facility location.

“We work closely with our FAA partners while we train to achieve the CTO certificate and other credentials,” he added. “What makes these certifications great, is that the skills we learn and apply as Soldiers are easily transferable to the civilian sector. It serves as a gateway to obtaining a career as an ATC, either with the FAA back home or with the DoD all over the world, wherever control towers are needed.”

Back home, Boulet also serves as a policeman for the Houston Police Department, and has served as an ATC during his drills with 2-149th GSAB since 2014.

“I have been an ATC for the Texas Army National Guard my whole career, and this is my second deployment,” said Boulet. “I am very proud of my team and Foxtrot Company. The resiliency and dedication to ATS has led to the accomplishment of completing several big missions over the past few years.

TF Mustang ATCs and GCA technicians serve and increase FAA ratings
U.S. Army air traffic controllers from Foxtrot Company, 2-149th GSAB, gather in the Udairi Control Tower at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Jan. 20, 2023. Left to right: Spc. Isaac Bernardy, Spc. Christian Edwards, Staff Sgt. Sean Boulet, and Spc. Haley McMurray. (Photo Credit: Capt. Steven L. Wesolowski, 36th CAB Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

Gathering and providing data of inbound aircraft from outside of the ATCTs are advanced radar systems managed by GCA technicians. Their section also works nonstop, to include running simulations for maintaining proficiencies, ensuring aircraft receive accurate monitoring and ground support readiness for their approach.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Olivia Garza, terminal platoon leader under Foxtrot Company, oversees controllers attending to the control tower, MOTS, and the Air Traffic, Integration and Coordination System (ATNAVICS) at Camp Buehring.

“Our platoon's controllers ensure proper altitude coordination when they are handed off, and sequencing and separating of aircraft during their approach to landing,” said Garza.

Garza carries over four years of experience in her current role as an air traffic and air space technician for the TXARNG, and relates well with the ATCs due to her eight years of enlisted experience as an ATC specialist prior to becoming a warrant officer.

TF Mustang ATCs and GCA technicians serve and increase FAA ratings
U.S. Army Sgt. Ernesto De La Pena, GCA facility chief for Foxtrot Company, 2-149th GSAB, 36th CAB (left), and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Olivia Garza, terminal platoon leader from Foxtrot Company, attend to a sheltered operations station of an AN/TPN-31 ATNAVICS, at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Jan. 20, 2023. (Photo Credit: Capt. Steven L. Wesolowski, 36th CAB Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

“This my first deployment with focusing on the GCA mission,” she said. “I am most proud of how far our Soldiers have come a long way to quickly work together as a team here in the Middle East. Our MOTS got 100% of their trainees certified thanks to the training led by Staff Sgt. Dove Leblanc, and our ATNAVICS platform is led by Sgt. De La Pena, who worked hard putting together training and getting the system installed here in such a short amount of time.”

Sgt. Ernesto De La Pena, GCA facility chief for Foxtrot Company, directly manages his assigned controllers and the workspace provided for his fellow Soldiers.

“I have been an air traffic control specialist for seven years, and have specialized in GCA operations for the last six years. This is my second GCA mission here in Kuwait with my first back in 2017,” said De La Pena. “Our operations room delivers a ton of capabilities in monitoring various aircraft signals and movement. Our work serves as the ‘extra safety net’ for pilots should they ever experience a lack of or zero visibility of their approach and landing caused by sudden weather storms or unexpected instrument failures.”

TF Mustang ATCs and GCA technicians serve and increase FAA ratings
U.S. Army Sgt. Ernesto De La Pena, GCA facility chief for Foxtrot Company, 2-149th GSAB, 36th CAB (left), attends to a sheltered operations station of an AN/TPN-31 ATNAVICS, at the Udairi Landing Zone in Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Jan. 20, 2023. (Photo Credit: Capt. Steven L. Wesolowski, 36th CAB Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

When asked about the technology used by GCA technicians, De La Pena predicted how the radar advancements will deliver to the field.

“We’re always liking to see more updates on the system, to include more reliable software,” commented De La Pena. “I see the system slowly progressing in ways that will make our user interface capable of controlling every function from just one screen.”

De La Pena was very pleased by the professionalism of his fellow Soldiers.

“I’m proud of them for being persistent and getting the ATNAVICS operational here in Kuwait. The system was down for about a year and a half prior to our arrival. It’s been nothing short of positive,” he added. “Soldiers have been studying hard and applying their knowledge. We’re working well together and challenging each other in a healthy way to become better.”

TF Mustang ATCs and GCA technicians serve and increase FAA ratings
U.S. Army Spc. Darius Zoller and Pvt. Deja Harvey, GCA controller trainees from Louisian Army National Guard attached to Foxtrot Company, 2-149th General Support Aviation Battalion, 36th CAB, conduct controller training on radar simulations at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Jan. 20, 2023. (Photo Credit: Capt. Steven L. Wesolowski, 36th CAB Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

Among several Soldiers directly maintaining equipment critical to GCA mission success is Sgt. Daniel A. Khoeler, ATC equipment repairer and maintenance supervisor for Foxtrot Company.

“I have been a 94D with the TXARNG for over four and half years, and have had the privilege serving as the acting maintenance chief for some time during this deployment,” said Khoeler. “I am most proud of the Soldiers I serve with. Our working together on keeping our radars in check and maintaining proficiency affects the readiness of not just our aviation brigade, but for an entire division.”

Khoeler is one of very few 94D NCOs from across the Texas Army National Guard who can readily address and repair the ATNAVICS, a modular system that includes Airport Surveillance Radar (ASR) and Precision Approach Radar (PAR), delivering jam-resistant communications to aircraft. He can be found constantly training technicians assigned to him to delegate repairs to any faults, and ultimately prevent system failures throughout their duration in theater.

TF Mustang ATCs and GCA technicians serve and increase FAA ratings
U.S. Army Sgt. Daniel Khoeler, maintenance supervisor for the GCA section of Foxtrot Company, 2-149th General Support Aviation Battalion, 36th CAB (far right), accompanied by 1st Sgt. Robert Calogero, first sergeant of Foxtrot Company, conducts maintenance checks on the airport surveillance radar of an AN/TPN-31 ATNAVICS, at the Udairi Landing Zone in Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Jan. 20, 2023. (Photo Credit: Capt. Steven L. Wesolowski, 36th CAB Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

“Keeping our PARs and ASRs in solid working order can present some challenges, but our success is a direct result of the hard work and high standards we set. I am truly blessed to have been mentored within a community that places excellence above complacency every day,” Khoeler concluded.

Foxtrot Company continues to deliver ATS for pilots, sustaining hundreds of flight missions supporting Operation Inherent Resolve and large-scale partnership exercises with U.S. Army Central Command, culminating several thousands of hours of flight following since boots on the ground. The strength of these Soldiers provides for the safe, orderly and expeditious movement of air traffic across the CENTCOM AOR.