By Spc. Joshua Barnett, Louisiana National Guard Public Affairs Office
NEW ORLEANS — The Louisiana National Guard recently made history when they began providing air traffic control services at the Hammond Northshore Regional Airport.
“Standing up a tower in the national airspace is something that hasn’t been done in many, many, many years,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Scott Hale, an air traffic and air space management technician with Detachment 1, 2nd Airfield Operations Battalion, 244th Aviation Regiment. “There’s no manual for it, and most of the people that have done it are long retired.”
“This has been a long time coming; we are very excited,” said Jason Ball, airport director. “It has been a lot of work by a lot of people.”
To familiarize local pilots with the new procedures that having controlled airspace brings, Guardsmen have been providing limited, advisory-only services at the new tower for the past month. On January 15, the advisory period ended and the tower became fully operational.
“We sequence and separate everybody safely, to get them in and out of the airport as quickly as possible,” Hale said.
According to Hale, the Guard’s involvement at this tower is unique in two ways: this is the only tower in the United States staffed entirely with National Guardsmen, and the first to be operated by the Army National Guard instead of the Air Guard.
The tower will benefit the airport and the community, increasing safety and allowing for more traffic, but it will also benefit the National Guard. Operating the tower will expand the knowledge and experience of the Guardsmen. It will expose them to situations they wouldn’t normally encounter in the Army, such as coordinating with nearby controllers at New Orleans International Airport.
It also created new jobs for Guardsmen. The Army National Guard operates the tower, but the jobs were open to both Soldiers and Airmen. Currently two of the controllers are Airmen, while six controllers and two supervisors are Soldiers.
“Having 10 slots for air traffic controllers to go and do their job, within the state where they live and grew up, is a great situation. Not very many people get the opportunity to apply what they learned on drill weekend on an everyday basis. It’s going to make for one of the best-trained Guard units in the country,” Hale said.