KEY FIELD AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Miss. --
On any given day, thousands of military airplanes take off and land all over the world. Here at Key Field Air National Guard Base, Meridian, Mississippi, the 248th Air Traffic Control Squadron (ATCS), manages that air traffic. In fact, it is the busiest airport in the state of Mississippi for military and commercial air traffic, and the second busiest Air National Guard wide for total operations. The 248th provides service to all aircraft which includes commercial airline, civilian general aviation, and military aircraft. Managing all of this air traffic requires the efforts of a synchronized group of airmen to operate and maintain the dozens of high tech, sophisticated systems and equipment.
The success of these missions and the lives of those in the air both heavily depend on the airmen who are on the ground working in air traffic control (ATC).
Members of the 248th manage and direct aircraft as they enter and exit local air traffic using visual, radar and non-radar tracking systems. Air traffic controllers are broken down into two central areas of responsibility, those who control the air and those who control the ground movement. When aircraft are on the ground or are taking off, pilots are communicating with the air traffic controllers in the tower. While in the air, pilots communicate with the radar approach control (RAPCON) controllers.
These two roles are just the beginning of what goes on in the 248th. No matter how many qualified airmen there are to operate the various radar and control tower systems, it would not make a difference if these systems were not working properly. This is where the maintenance crews come in. The new technical name for this group is called radar airfield weather systems specialists (RAWS). RAWS ensure that the equipment utilized by the air traffic controllers and pilots is in perfect working order. These specialists install and maintain everything from air traffic control and weather equipment, to ground control, and warning radar. Everything they do is to ensure aircraft can be safely guided through takeoff and landing.
In addition, the power production (power pro) and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) professionals help provide the power to operate these systems and keep the equipment at safe operating temperatures. The 248th power pro / HVAC group helps maintain the equipment and ensure power is flowing for mission readiness.
Master Sgt. William Zynosky-Sharpling, 248th power pro/HVAC shop supervisor, said, “We are like the heartbeat of any mission. We are the first thing to be turned on and the last to be shut down.”
The main goal of the 248th is a bit different than most other ATCS because they are part of a more rapid deploying unit that helps to establish new baseline services rather than supporting existing services.
“We wear a different hat than most units,” Zynosky-Sharpling said, “because we provide primary power sources, and not backup power and typically deploy in bare base setup operations without any prior commercial power. Our main priority is to protect and maintain the equipment so it functions properly, as this is vital to any mission. We provide HVAC support not necessarily for ‘creature comforts’ but rather for equipment functionality.”
Lt. Col. Amanda Ward, 248th ATCS commander, said, “The 248th Air Traffic Control Squadron is a fantastic unit with some amazing career opportunities that not many people know about. In addition to offering some very high-tech, high-income producing career fields, the 248th members pride themselves on their ability to perform several different tasks and jobs as part of our mission.”
Zynosky-Sharpling said, “We all have a wonderful opportunity to learn so much in this career field due to our unique structure. We learn how to set up mobile units, radios, and equipment, so we get to train in many roles. We are all independent, yet all dependent on each other. We are a very tight-knit group and all chip in.”
Senior Master Sgt. Cole Walker, acting chief tower/radar controller has been with the unit for over 16 years now. He said, “controllers, maintenance, power pro and our personnel all train to deploy together. We pack the pallets together, so we know how to set up the equipment, how it is all integrated and how everything works together. During Hurricane Maria, it was approximately 74 hours from the time we received the deployment order to the time we were set up in St. Croix talking to airplanes. Even if the pilot is flying blind, we can bring them in to the exact spot, and at the right speed and altitude that they need to land safely.”
Ward explained what makes the 248th ATCS unique, “Whenever an organization is structured this way, the whole unit is strengthened. Everyone is better able to forward think what is happening on each level, allowing them to foresee some of the impacts that each role has on the other.”
The 248th has seen a lot of long term airmen retire recently, and now they need to recruit new, airmen for these positions.
Ward added, “It is such a phenomenal opportunity – but we need the best and brightest coming from high school and colleges for these roles. We offer a fantastic career here in Meridian, Mississippi, where a student could either be a traditional guardsman serving one weekend a month or work in a full-time position in the tower as an air traffic controller, radar maintenance, power pro or in a HVAC position. There are systems in place that can springboard airmen from their 248th jobs to the FAA, working in very lucrative positions…all without a college degree!”
If you are looking for a military career that easily translates to well-paying employment in the civilian world, then being a part of the 248th ATCS may be for you.
Contact the 186 Air Refueling Wing recruiting at 601-484-9569 for more information on these positions and in joining the Mississippi Air National Guard. To learn more about the ATC career field or any other job in the Air National Guard visit www.GoAng.com.