CHERRY POINT, N.C. - Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, Cherry Point’s radar room and control tower never shut down.
The air traffic controllers who oversee Cherry Point’s airspace and runway operations issue clearances and feed information to pilots and aircrew on the ground and in the air. Their mission, to prevent collision of aircraft and ensure smooth flow of traffic, is vital to Cherry Point’s mission and national security.
Cherry Point’s ATC controls over 5,000 square miles of airspace. Attention to detail, mission focus and teamwork are all imperative to the safety of Cherry Point service members and civilians in surrounding communities.
“Every day is a different scenario, nothing is ever exactly the same. There are so many things the runway can be used for so every day is something different,” said Lance Cpl. Michael Van, an ATC specialist. “Even though I am a supervisor, I am still constantly learning new things and new ways to operate.”
Marines in the tower and radar room fill several, unique roles. Each crew member has a job to do, whether it is granting access, watching the radar from the ground, directing aircraft and vehicles on the runway or feeding information to pilots. All jobs are essential to daily mission accomplishment.
The controllers aim to keep the air and ground space safe and accident free. Ensuring safe operations can be exhausting so teamwork and proficiency are key, according to Van.
“Maintaining safety is everyone’s responsibility,” said Van. “We take breaks and switch on and off like pilot and co-pilot so we don’t get burned out.”
ATC Marines cross-train constantly to learn and sharpen their proficiency in each function of the ATC. The Marines conduct simulations and exercises to test their understanding and proficiency in their assigned roles and to identify ways to improve.
“ATC works very closely with the pilots and weather,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher Chase, an ATC specialist. “Anything could happen out of the blue within minutes and it is the job of ATC to keep pilots informed and safe.”
Training and education give the ATC Marines an edge and help alleviate some of the stress of day-to-day operations, according to Chase.
“There is an extreme level of stress at times because if someone makes a mistake it affects others lives,” said Chase. “Once you become a qualified controller, completing the intense training, you must perform at the top of your game 100 percent of the time.”