Airfield management leaves first, last impression

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kali L. Gradishar
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
At the moment visitors arrive at Incirlik and at the time they leave, the faces they see are those of the Airmen working around the clock at airfield management.

This is one of the many portions of the mission in which Incirlik's airfield management team takes great pride; though the AM Ops mission entails much more than greeting and bidding farewell.

"We don't just do one job, we do a lot," said Master Sgt. Latoya Adams, 39th Operations Squadron airfield manager. "It's constant coordination - making sure we park aircraft in positions where they can easily get in, get out, have their cargo downloaded or uploaded. It's a constant chess game making sure we move all the pieces."

A multi-tasker's dream

From filing flight plans and initiating search and rescue missions to managing the bird aircraft strike hazard program and conducting pavement evaluations, airfield management is responsible for ground and flight safety ensuring the wellbeing of pilots of all nationalities using Incirlik's airfield.

"We track aircraft, where they're going, when they're going and how long it takes to get there; we maintain the airfield by making sure it's clean and no pavement is cracked; and we chase wildlife off the airfield," said Senior Airman Mike Pawlak, 39th OS airfield manager.

"We have to know about the different types of pavement, different types of cracks and what agency to notify to get it fixed, which is typically (the 39th Civil Engineer Squadron)," he said. "The BASH program is very important for flight safety because every airfield can have a bird or wildlife problem. Here we have a lot of foxes and wild dogs that we have to chase off."

For the BASH program, airfield managers are certified on the 12-gauge shotgun that fires loud, blank rounds and BASH cannons placed along the airfield that set off a loud bang to frighten off wildlife.

Airfield managers are responsible for the flightline driving program, as well, ensuring each vehicle operator is qualified and knowledgeable on proper flightline driving procedures.

"We're constantly multitasking, prioritizing and re-evaluating," said Adams. "We're watching our watch, looking at the whole picture. We're figuring out where this person is, what time they're going to be here and what their intention is because I've got another plane that's coming in behind that plane in an hour and I need that parking spot."

These are tasks that can get hectic when coordinating for and between the U.S. and Turkish air forces, along with all other nation's and service's aircraft that use the airfield.

"We provide the same safe flying environment and the quality of service that we provide is not just to the (U.S.) Air Force - it goes to all personnel, all services, all countries that transition at Incirlik. We are the first impression of every pilot and crew that lands here," Adams noted. "That's one challenge, too - making sure we provide that level of customer service to everyone."

Consistently working 12-hour shifts is about the only thing consistent for airfield management. Each shift varies with the mission. Different aircraft arriving and departing, various types of cargo arriving and regular troubleshooting makes for a diverse environment.

"The average shift is 'anything goes.' Things change at such a moment's notice. You just never know what to expect when you walk in. You have to rack and stack and prioritize, so we just take what comes and make sure we get it done," explained Adams. "No day is the same here. People think all we do is file flight plans and sit behind the counter, but we're constantly moving, constantly doing different things."

The multitasking extends significantly far beyond the airfield management counter. Their mission, in fact, extends to every category of person and every agency on base.

"So many people depend on us. Making sure that we meet everyone's needs, making sure that we leave no stone unturned, making sure we've done everything we could've done and can do to provide a safe airfield environment - that is a difficult job," Adams said. "When I go to sleep at night, I am constantly thinking, 'Did I do this? Did we coordinate this? Did they know about this?' Because our job is not just within the (operations squadron). Our job touches every agency on this base."

Setting the foundation

Eight-and-a-half weeks of Basic Military Training and six weeks of fundamental airfield management training during technical school at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., precede the most essential portion of an airfield managers training - that which is received through experience.

"The six-week course is designed to give the basics of what you need to operate, but the real lessons learned come with doing the job," said Adams. "The nature of our job is learning by the experiences we get. We can learn the basic operations, but it's those unique situations that are learning experiences that you build upon."

Of the 11 Airmen in airfield management, four of them are 3-level apprentices.

Airman Betsey Carrion arrived at Incirlik from technical school in April, and is spending her 12-hour shifts learning the ins and outs of the career field as a whole, as well as her specific role as a member of Incirlik's airfield management team.

"In tech school, we would have this one booklet, and we would learn it in about three days," Carrion said. "Here, there's more time to train and time to look over (Air Force instructions). There's a lot more time to train. You don't take your time, but you learn more. You're doing it hands on."

Certified airfield managers are challenged with sending 3-level Airmen out the door to their next duty station as more experienced 5-level journeymen proficient in the career field.

"Here at Incirlik, they typically come here on a 15-month tour, but you have to have a year before they can be upgraded to a 5-level; so we are literally growing our own to get them out the door to do the mission somewhere else," said Adams. "We do take pride in that, making sure we're giving them a good foundation to learn how to do the job not only at Incirlik, but Air Force wide.

"They're the next generation. It's important to make sure they're set up for success because once you have a good foundation, all you can do is build on it," she said. "I really want them to be recognized for the fact that they have so much responsibility for their rank."

Even as Airmen progress through the ranks, however, there are still aspects of the job that require a continuous effort to ensure proficiency and accuracy.

"The most difficult part of my job is remembering all the distances on the airfield. Everything is measured. Nothing is just randomly placed. Everything has a specific height or distance away from the runway," said Pawlak. "Not only do we have to remember all the physical things, you also have the imaginary distances to memorize - imaginary surfaces, such as clear zones one, two and three.

"Those are important things to know to ensure you do your job correctly, and also because inspectors like to quiz you on those distances. For example, an inspector once asked me how tall a fire extinguisher can be on an airfield. I didn't know the answer at the time, but I definitely know that now," he said.

For Carrion, the most difficult part is cramming in all the knowledge and ensuring it's applied correctly to each situation, as well as getting accustomed to 12-hour shifts.

"Once I'm done with my shift, I just need to go to sleep. I'm mentally drained," Carrion said.

A team effort gets the job done

Driving, birds and wildlife, pavement evaluations, flight plans, aircraft tracking, greeting distinguished visitors -- because there are so many aspects to airfield management, accomplishing the mission requires the entire team's effort.

Each of the positions is divvied up amongst the Airmen -- airfield manager, deputy airfield manager, NCO in charge of operations, NCO in charge of training, shift leads and coordinators.

"All of those titles for 11 people," exclaimed Adams. "It depends on what training level you're at as to what position you'll hold. For us to have so few people and to still get the mission done, is just beyond belief. We run 24 hours, seven days a week, 365. We don't ever go home. Someone is always here.

"Not one person can do this on their own. I have an awesome team, and if it wasn't for them I could not do my job effectively," Adams said. "They really put the pieces of the puzzle together. It's a team effort all the way around."

For the outsider looking in, it may seem as though the reach of the airfield manager extends only so far as the front counter. The reality, however, is the airfield management team here influences operations much further than the Incirlik Air Base.

"They do so much and have such an impact in how we do our mission, how we get cargo downrange, how we even get our basic necessities for the commissary," Adams said of her Airmen. "I think they understand the magnitude of why they do their job and why they should be proficient in their job because it's not just here at Incirlik, it touches bases all over the world as far as what we do here."