ATC team exceeds standards under stress

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alexandra Singer
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The Air Traffic Control Tower team on Langley Air Force Base received recognition for its efforts during an abundance of high visibility events, which happened last year.

The tower was awarded the D. Ray Hardin Air Traffic Control Facility of the Year award, at the Air Force and Air Combat Command level. The award, which is given to an ATC facility that has made notable contributions to the ATC system is judged on a variety of areas ranging from unusual traffic work load to deployments and emergency situations.

For the people working in the tower, the recognition meant a lot. Over the course of the past year, they put in a great deal of work to help the office and runway successfully generate airpower. From the junior enlisted to the officers, the service members at the ATC tower are willing to put in the extra effort during times of low manning.

According to the team, without each and every person stepping up to play their part, the team would not have earned the award, and the tower would not be an ideal place to work.

“The tower has a high turnover due to deployments and separations,” said Master Sgt. Daniel Sluss, 1st Operations Support Squadron assistant chief controller. “For the controllers, there’s opportunity to work as a civilian in the Federal Aviation Administration, so a lot of Airmen end up leaving after their first term. We have a lot of people deploying regularly also, leaving us short staffed.”

According to Sluss, through the hard work of seasoned veterans who have stayed in, and the Airmen arriving from technical school, the tower has maintained its excellent work ethic.

One example of someone who went above and beyond for the team is Staff Sgt. Joshua Shaffer, a watch supervisor.

Technically, Shaffer wasn’t supposed to be in the watch supervisor position until this past September. During a very critical time, when manning was extremely low, Shaffer was granted a waiver to be a watch supervisor five months early. As a watch supervisor for the tower, Shaffer stepped up to learn how to oversee all activity going on at the top of the control tower, along with anything else that might be needed.

With new skills at his disposal, Shaffer hopes to further strengthen his team by passing down his expertise to the incoming Airmen.

“We call it a tower team concept,” said Shaffer. “Everybody up there has your back especially during chaos. Some trainees will need a softer touch going into training and others will need a kick in the butt. It’s all about what works and passing down your knowledge to the next generation.”

According to Senior Airman Richard Smith, 1st OSS air traffic controller, the goal is to make the next generation of controllers better than the last. With extensive training and a lot of time, each trainee will at least be at the level of their trainer or better.

Smith has worked with Shaffer since the beginning of his career at Joint Base Langley-Eustis. Shaffer trained Smith on most of his tasks starting from local, which is the person in the tower talking to the pilot, all the way to today, where he’s training him to be an on watch supervisor.

“My aunt is contracted out at Dover (Air Force Base) and she asked me if I was sure I wanted to be an air traffic controller,” said Smith. “Not because she didn’t think I could do it, but because, she knew it was extremely competitive. She was looking out for my best interest because she’s family. These guys are like family, they look out for my best interest and they got me where I am (today).”

The training and constant support from his team pushed Smith to earn the Air Traffic Controller of the Year award at the Air Combat Command and Air Force levels. He also won the Air Traffic Control Association Military Air Traffic Controller of the Year award.

“The award really goes hand-in-hand with the award the whole facility was given,” said Smith. “It’s our culture here to train people to be even better than we are. You don’t want to be working next to someone who isn’t at least on your level because we’re all in this together.”

In the coming months, Shaffer and Smith are scheduled to deploy together. Although the tower team will be losing two great Airmen, they are confident that the people they’ve trained will be the next best and keep the airpower mission going strong.