US Marine Corps, September 23, 2015 - KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii by Christine Cabalo - Marines and Sailors are moving toward the end of era at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, beginning a new chapter as a Marine Corps administered facility.
The unit’s air traffic control is transitioning to a completely Marine staff administering Corps standards by 2018, instead of the current mixed Navy and Marine Corps team. Both Navy and Marine Corps staff leaders said they are managing the transition to ensure all air traffic controllers are set up for success after the final changes are complete.
“If no one notices a difference, we’re doing it right,” said Navy Lt. James Williams, the air traffic control facility officer for MCAS Kaneohe Bay. “We’re doing a lot of simulations and preparation for the transition.”
One of the main reasons for the transition is due to the changes of aircraft operating out of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, said Master Sgt. David Blake, the Marine air traffic control training chief for the unit. More Marine Corps assets will be based at K-Bay as older Navy aircraft will be phased out, Blake said.
Among the aircraft leaving include the Navy’s P-3 Orion.
Although both Navy and Marine personnel learn the same principles of air traffic control the branches have different ways of administratively recording their work. Senior leaders also face the challenge of planning their training schedules during the transition to ensure both the Marines and Sailors can get necessary qualifications to advance in their careers.
“The uniqueness of (air traffic control) is that it’s a constant training process,” said Blake, a native of Washington, D.C. “We’re always taking tests and our training is never complete. … Every airfield you operate out of is different.”
As the new Marine air traffic controllers arrive, they are learning about the unique operations aboard MCAS Kaneohe Bay. Foreign military flights regularly arrive in Hawaii and several branches of the U.S. military use the flightline, said Petty Officer 1st Class Stephen Bjorlie, an air traffic controller with MCAS Kaneohe Bay. Bjorlie is one of several Sailors directly working with his newly arrived Marine counterparts and helping them become familiar with the unit’s airfield operations.
“(Operating at this) air station we have flights with opposite traffic, so controllers need to track the departures heading northeast and arrivals southwest,” said Bjorlie, of Midland, Texas. “This is a unique environment with a large mountain range and multiple aircraft.”
Even for those who have worked at other Marine Corps air stations, Hawaii sees its share of various aircraft, said Sgt. Michael Musick, one of the first Marine air traffic controllers to transfer to the unit.
“One thing we have that you don’t see elsewhere are tour helicopters,” said Musick, of Mandeville, La. “They fly over K-Bay with restrictions and may need to deviate from their original flight plans depending on air traffic.”
Both Musick and Bjorlie said although their branches have different administrative procedures, each branch’s friendliness and professional manner have helped as the change occurs.
The unit is projecting to have a total of 13 Marines who are air traffic controllers on base by October 2015, Blake said.
There are currently 34 Navy air traffic controllers aboard MCAS Kaneohe Bay. Although Sailors may still be stationed with the unit for logistics, supply and administrative jobs, the Marines will take on air traffic control using their administrative standards.
“We’ve had a good rapport with the people we work with,” said Williams, of New Bern, N.C. “Master Sgt. Blake has taught the Sailors how the Marine Corps does things administratively. … Having that kind of experience helps things go smoothly.”
The unit is still in the beginning phase of the changeover, but Williams and Blake said there would be no disruptions in service. Both Navy and Marine personnel said they’re working together for a seamless and transparent change for crews working with MCAS Kaneohe Bay.
“Everything so far has gone smoothly,” Williams said. “We’re constantly talking with (each staff) all the time. This is one example of the Navy-Marine team at its best.”
The transition continues through approximately 2017 as the final group of Marines is scheduled to arrive to handle air traffic control from the Sailors transferring out, Blake said.