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Referees of the airfield

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- What does it take to support multiple U.S. and coalition aircraft on a 12,012-foot runway while keeping safety as the primary concern 24-hours a day, seven days a week?

Airmen of airfield operations, composed of airfield management and air traffic control, ensure safe air and ground operations for assigned and transient aircraft, along with coordinating access and maintenance for ground operations around the airfield.

“The mission of airfield management is to coordinate flight plans, prior permission required requests as well as perform airfield checks and inspections,” said Capt. Leroy, the airfield operations flight commander. “If we don’t coordinate where a particular aircraft will park with our host nation counterparts and get permission for the aircraft to land, the host nation will not let them touch the ground.”

The airfield manager’s role is to ensure a safe environment for aircraft to taxi, takeoff, land and park.

“We make sure there are no hazards or issues with the runway,” said Tech. Sgt. Kimberly, an airfield manager. “We also follow-up with the flight plans to ensure the aircraft have the proper clearance for them to takeoff in the system.”

One of the most visible airfield management missions is managing the foreign object or debris (FOD) program.

“We inspect the runway and taxiways throughout the day to make sure there is no debris that can damage aircraft,” said Senior Airman Matthew, an airfield management shift lead. “We do an airfield inspection once per day, and then we periodically check the aircraft movement areas throughout the day. We try to make it a point to go out to the areas that aircraft specifically use.”

Not only does airfield management make sure the flightline is safe from FOD and other hazardous items, they make sure those driving on the airfield are qualified to operate near the multimillion dollar weapons systems.

“We ensure that personnel driving on the airfield are qualified,” said Matthew, currently deployed from McChord Air Force Base, Washington. “We also train unit program managers who, in turn, train their (Airmen) to drive on the airfield. We are watching making sure that everyone out there is following proper procedures.”

Airfield management’s mission extends to the beddown of transient aircraft.

“We ensure they have proper parking and aircraft assistance when they get here,” said Kimberly, currently deployed from Little Rock AFB, Arkansas. “My (Airmen) do a good job at making sure that they are being parked and serviced the way they should be.”

The other half of airfield operations involves air traffic controllers. Here, air traffic controllers act as liaisons with the host nation. Additionally, the duties of an air traffic controller liaison include recording automated terminal information service bulletins, which are continuous broadcasts of recorded weather and any other pertinent information for pilots.

“Air traffic controllers are like the referees or the safety observers in the sky,” said Leroy, currently deployed from Vance AFB, Oklahoma. “There are times when you have clearance for takeoff or clearance for landing when it should not be given. Therefore, we provide that safety observer eye in the sky to keep (pilots) safe.”

Like all fields, air traffic controllers face challenges while performing their duties.

“One of the biggest challenges we have is trying to understand our pilots as well as (coalition) pilots,” said Staff Sgt. Matt, an air traffic control liaison currently deployed from Tyndall AFB, Florida.

One thing Airmen of airfield operations can be proud of is having an outstanding airfield waiver review process.

“More than 2,200 obstructions on the airfield were validated by my Airmen and the Airmen of the Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron,” said Leroy. “It was a team effort and these guys were able to get rid of 125 obstructions as well. A lot of things on this airfield didn’t need to be here, so my Airmen are making the airfield safer.”

There’s no doubt that the challenging mission of airfield management provides even greater rewards.

“As weird as it sounds, the most rewarding part of my job is sitting here during an evening shift and watching the F-15 Strike Eagles take-off with full afterburner,” said Matt. “Those guys go out with bombs and they come back without them. It is good to know we are doing something here.”

(Editor’s note: Due to safety and security reasons, last names and unit designators were removed.)