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Air National Guard unit ensures safe flying

OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM -- Master Sgt. Tim Sowder stands atop the flight tower watching as a C-130 Hercules takes off here March 26.  He is the chief controller at the tower and is assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group at Bagram, Afghanistan.  (U.S. Army photo by Pvt. Terri Rorke)

OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM -- Master Sgt. Tim Sowder stands atop the flight tower watching as a C-130 Hercules takes off here March 26. He is the chief controller at the tower and is assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group at Bagram, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by Pvt. Terri Rorke)

OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM (AFPN) -- Communication is vital. It is the key to the success of any operation. Without it, assumption and perception take over, causing malfunctions and putting lives at stake.

This is something the air traffic control and radar approach control airmen at Bagram, Afghanistan know well.

Listening for requests to land on the runway, watching the radar screen to see who is inbound and outbound and writing up flight progress slips are all part of the tasks the Air National Guard team carries out each day.

The tower directs more than 100 aircraft in a 24-hour period, said Master Sgt. Tim Sowder, chief tower controller with the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group here.

The unit approves everything entering and exiting the airspace around the base and on the flightline, ensuring all traffic at Bagram flows smoothly.

"It's all about communications," said Senior Airman Alicen Hogan, an air traffic controller. "You can't just say 'oh, well.' There are always options. The job is just finding which one."

Hogan, who is a civilian Internet specialist, said she joined the Air National Guard at 28 because there are pilots in her family.

Both her civilian and military working environments are similar because of the spontaneous nature of the job, she said. At any time, something can go awry.

The tower airmen work with those of the radar approach control to ensure a safe landing or take-off.

"It's a team effort. We coordinate with the radar to find out exact positions," said Sowder.

The radar control operates three radars on the flightline. One detects activity 60 miles out in a 360-degree radius; one identifies friend or foe 200 miles out; and one monitors precision approaches.

Radar control also communicates with pilots.

When the weather is bad, pilots perform every instruction the radar controllers tell them to ensure a safe landing.

Pilots put total trust in the radar to direct them exactly where to fly, said Senior Master Sgt. John Null, chief radar approach controller with the 455th EOG.

"The work triples at night," he said. There are always blackout operations and with no illumination, the tower uses night vision goggles to track operations.

Communication remains the force that keeps the airfield operating smoothly.

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