The White Sands Radar Facility was named the 2014 Air Combat Command D. Ray Hardin Air Traffic Control Facility of the Year.
“This is the culmination of a year of absolutely outstanding work by the individuals who execute the mission every day in an extremely complex environment for a CONUS base. This recognition is well justified,” said WSMR Assistant Chief Controller Senior Master Sgt. Jason Thaggard.
The Major Command level award is presented annually at the unit level by the Air Combat Command Headquarters at Langley Air Force Base. There were several units who submitted their applications this year, including Nellis Air Force Base, which hosts the largest air training exercise in the Air Force.
In order to apply for the award, Thaggard and his team compiled the facility’s most significant accomplishments for the 2014 calendar year.
“We forwarded the information up and it turned out in our favor this year,” Thaggard said.
The list of accomplishments included controlling over 30,000 aircraft operations that were comprised of multiple aircraft types from the new-to-Holloman F-16s to Remotely Piloted Aircrafts. The team also supported various projects both from WSMR and out at Holloman Air Force Base. A U. S. Joint Staff sponsored event known as Bold Quest 14.2 also provided a series of missions for the facility last year.
“Changes, needs and missions drove us a lot last year,” said WSMR Assistant Chief Controller Dave Doan.
Along with the series of missions and projects, what helped the team stand out was the development of a new Military Operations Area Control position. These types of developments are not common in these types of facilities. The new position, more affectionately known as Smokey, was created to alleviate the workload of other controllers. Smokey controls the military operation area that operates in airspace above WSMR. Thaggard said the new position benefits training missions out at Holloman.
“What stands out with a radar facility is things are always changing; new rockets, new missiles. Every quarter, every bi-annual we have to develop new procedures. Everything always changes. The caveat is really unique for WSMR,” Doan said.
Though the team has an extensive list of accomplishments, Thaggard said Cherokee is their claim to fame. Cherokee allows them to provide airspace monitoring and restriction control for test and Research and Development missions in the skies above WSMR.
“We’re one of a few ACC bases that have restricted air space. Having all of the missions and developmental research here makes it unique,” said. Staff Sgt. Joseph Jordan, Air Traffic Control Watch Supervisor.
Jordan has been working in his capacity at WSMR for eight months and for the Air Force for five years. He said the award is a great example of the type of leadership the team has. He attributes the success to the “homegrown controllers,” who bring in an extensive amount of experience to the team.
“I think it’s a great achievement for the entire facility and it shows the hard work and dedication the entire facility has put on,” he said.
Tech. Sgt. Jerome Cole, NCOIC of Training and Standardization, has been at WSMR for two and a half years and said he has only experienced winning an award at this level once more in his 12 year career in the Air Force.
“It feels good to get the recognition. A lot of our controllers haven’t experienced anything like that. It feels good to have them know that their work is being noticed,” Cole said. “It feels good to be a part of a mission this size with all of the complex missions we have.”
Thaggard said he believes this is the first time the facility has been recognized in such a capacity. The facility is run by 62 Air Traffic Controllers, 54 Active Duty Airmen from the Air Force’s Air Combat Command, 49th Wing, 49th Operations Support Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base, and eight DoD civilians.
“DoD civilians are a large part of this award. Our civilians don’t move as often as we do. They really contribute in regards to continuity. They really are the backbone of the facility,” Thaggard said. “We rely heavily on the civilian workforce, it’s 50/50.”
On top of the various missions, Thaggard said they also trained almost a dozen brand new air traffic controllers.
“While pilots are learning to fly, the people at the other end of the radio are also learning to do their job as well. Our NCO core here provides the majority of our oversight for the development of our young enlisted controllers,” he said.
The award now makes them eligible to compete at the Air Force level. Results for the award should be in by spring.