24th MEU Air Traffic Controllers Run the Tower during Exercise Eager Lion 12

5 Jun 2012 | Staff Sgt. Robert Fisher

“Gas Hog, you’re clear to land.” Getting aircraft on and off the flight line here gave Marine air traffic controllers an opportunity to test their knowledge and take over the show during Exercise Eager Lion 12, which took place throughout the month of May.

The ATC Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261 (Reinforced), 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, were originally tasked to liaison with the Jordanian Air Force, but things changed once they began working together.

“Initially, we were meant to be a liaison between the Jordanians in the tower and our aircraft, but we did so well that we’re pretty much running the tower,” said Capt. Joe M. Miley, 35, Marine Air Traffic Control Mobile Team officer in charge. “We’ve been doing it since day three and it’s been great.

“I’m happy that we’re able to actually take controls instead of just acting as a liaison,” said Miley, a Tifton, Ga., native.

The Marines are part of a Mobile Marine Air Traffic Control team, which provides continuous air traffic control service to all friendly aircraft through departure and return. They also survey and build airfields along with forward arming and refueling points. They usually serve as an international liaison between the Marine Corps Air Ground Task Force and other ATC agencies and organizations.

“To be expeditionary, we can’t carry all the big equipment like radar so we have to be qualified to be in the tower,” said Sgt. Michael V. Palazzotta, 23, air traffic controller and Houston native. “We organize and expedite the flow of traffic to get aircraft out as quickly as possible. We also keep the aircraft apart in the air so they don’t swap paint.”

The exercise has allowed the Marines to work directly with their Jordanian counterparts to share knowledge of running a flight line.

“It’s good bilateral training because we’ll talk to our aircraft and Captain Ghazi (Alsarhan) will talk to the Jordanian aircraft and sometimes vice versa,” said Gunnery Sgt. Corey D. Allen, 33, air traffic controller and Detroit native. “That’s been the best part for me, seeing how they do things and learning from them and working with them.”
The Jordanians benefited from the shared experiences of the Marines in the tower.

“They are excellent controllers,” said Capt. Ghazi Alsarhan, air traffic controller with the Jordanian Air Force. “I’ve learned a lot from them. We work with the air traffic and practice English. When I arrived here, I had to watch their lips all the time. Now I can talk to them and not have to stare at them. We have gained new friends.”

Ghazi wasn’t the only beneficiary from the bilateral training.
“Capt. Ghazi is the best Jordanian controller,” said Palazzotta. “We’ve learned a lot from each other.”

Working together throughout the exercise allowed the ATC Marines and their Jordanian links to build bonds and establish friendships.

“We’ve grown pretty close to the Jordanians since we’ve been here,” said Cpl. David G. Caceras, 21, air traffic controller and Horsham, Penn., native.

The exercise, despite not sticking to the original intent of the liaison mission, opened the doors for the Marines to work in a real-world environment running an airfield from the control tower.

“I think this exercise has gone really well in regard to the training,” said Allen. “It’s been good to get everybody out here and everyone getting to do their job.”

Eager Lion 12 is an international training exercise with more than 19 countries and approximately 11,000 participants designed to promote cooperation and military-to-military relationships among participating forces. The exercise scenario is intended to portray realistic, modern-day security challenges.