Airmen control skies

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- This is part three of a three part series on jobs critical to flight operations--

Most Air Force career fields maintain the imperative responsibility of supporting flight operations.

Many of these career fields, however, do not have as direct an impact on flight operations as air traffic control.

"We are Federal Aviation Administration certified to sequence and separate airplanes, which basically means we keep the air planes from hitting each other," said Tech Sgt. John Cropper, 366th Operations Support Squadron tower chief controller.

Air traffic controllers also play a key role in aviation safety. From initial taxi and take-off to mission execution all the way until the aircraft is safely parked, controllers are there every step of the way ensuring the crew is provided with maximum situational awareness and safety procedures.

"It's one of those jobs where you have to be on your toes and be able to think quickly," explained Senior Airman Jennifer Bradshaw, 366th OSS air traffic controller. "The job is different every day with different conflicts that arise with different aircraft, whether they're large, small, fighter or non-fighter."

Knowing one small mistake could lead to fatal consequences for the flight crews, air traffic control is arguably one of the most stressful jobs in the Air Force.

"The job can definitely be stressful at times, more so for some people than it is for others," said Cropper. "This is one of those jobs that not just anyone can do, and it has one of the highest suicide rates in the country due to the stress. In fact, some people can do the technical part of the job but just can't handle the stress aspect."

The controllers are able to shoulder the responsibility of safely directing air traffic while simultaneously ensuring air support is provided to the war effort.

"Without us the planes don't get airborne. Getting them in and out of the fight safely is our main priority. If that is not accomplished, there is no fight," declared Cropper.