Lost boys watch White Sands Missile Range

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Warren Spearman
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
 Away from the hustle and bustle of Holloman Air Force Base, a group of Airmen watch the skies, ensuring aircraft fly the friendly skies safely.

They are the air traffic controllers of White Sands Missile Range, N.M. They are charged with helping to protect the skies for civilian and military aircraft throughout New Mexico.

Housed at the J.W. Cox Control Center at WSMR, the 63 personnel (55 enlisted, one officer, and seven civilians), who comprise this group that works under the banner of the 49th Operations Support Squadron, enjoy the camaraderie and the atmosphere being away from the main hub provides.

"We have a really great environment here," said Tech. Sgt. Clifford McDonald, a watch supervisor with the 49th OSS. "We don't deal with many distractions."

"I enjoy it," said Airman 1st Class Kieffe Ng, an Air Traffic Controller with the 49th OSS. "I initially didn't want to come here, but it's not too bad."

Air Traffic Control is known at Holloman to be a stressful and challenging job. It is no different at White Sands.

"The best part is that it's challenging," Ng says. "It keeps me on my toes."

The career field used to be the United States Army's responsibility, and the Air Force's contingent was originally at Holloman. When the Army built the facility, it asked the Air Force to run the air traffic control operation. The USAF accepted, and Airmen have been on watch here since the late 90s.

They work in darkness, surrounded by radar screens for eight hours a day.

"It's a very unique environment," said Senior Airman Eric Beers, an air traffic controller with the 49th OSS. "It took me six to eight months to get used to working in darkness; it messes with you after a while."

Yet there are those who are unaffected by remote atmosphere.

"I love being here," said Senior Airman Jan Watts, an air traffic controller with the 49th OSS. "I love the area. I love the scenery, and it really doesn't affect me being away from Holloman."