Missouri Guardsman named Air Traffic Controller of the Year
By Staff Sgt. Patrick Evenson, 139th Airlift Wing
/ Published November 02, 2018
ROSECRANS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mo. -- An Airman assigned to the 241st Air Traffic Control Squadron traveled to Washington, D.C. last month, after being named Air Traffic Controller of the Year.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Damien Williams, accepted the 2018 Air Force Air Traffic Controller of the Year Award from the Air Traffic Control Association, during a ceremony at National Harbor near D.C. on October 2, 2018.
The association recognized one service member from each branch of the military who performed in an exemplary or extraordinary manner, during the past year, in support of military air traffic control facilities.
“In my career, this is the first time I’ve seen a controller win a national level recognition,” Lt. Col. Nathan Vanhoof, commander of the 241st said. “It’s nice when other organizations [outside the Department of Defense] take the time and recognize the efforts of the Air Force air traffic controllers.”
Williams was initially surprised when he heard about winning the award.
“I thought I was just doing my job,” Williams said. “I guess I did quite a bit in the year that I didn’t even realize.”
Senior Master Sgt. Benjamin Taube, tower chief controller of the 241st, submitted Williams for the award in large part due to the variety of activities performed by Williams in 2017.
“He came here out of active duty Marine Corps, knocked out his Airman Leadership School, knocking out his Air Force training, and immediately deployed to Tarkio, Missouri,” Taube said of Williams. “He turned around from that and deployed to Ponce, Puerto Rico.”
In July of 2017 Williams supported the Wingnuts Flying Circus Annual Fly-In and Airshow in Tarkio. While there with the mobile tower team, he helped handle nearly 1,000 aircraft operations over a 24-hour period, in turn making it the busiest air traffic control tower in the United States Air Force.
After the devastation that Hurricane Maria left in Puerto Rico, Williams again volunteered to deploy during the relief effort in September. He was involved in over 1,500 joint aircraft operations that delivered 375 tons of food and water to people in need.
“He raises his hand every time that something comes up and he’s ready to go,” Taube said. “He’s been a quick learner, and is what we at the 241st want out of an Airman.”
“I have a wonderful group of professionals, who do a good job ensuring that the pilots have a safe operating environment,” Vanhoof said.
It is the mission of the 241st to deploy, operate, and maintain Air Traffic Control and Landing Systems in support of the state of Missouri, Air National Guard or United States Air Force.
“As a guard unit sitting out in Missouri, we don’t think we do as much as we do, then you see this and how we went up against some tough competitors,” Taube said. “It speaks for the whole unit; we are doing stuff right, here.”
In fiscal year 2018 the unit conducted over 60,000 air traffic control operations, including deployments to Puerto Rico, the United Arab Emirates and Ramstein Air Base for Saber Junction exercise.
The ATCA was established in Washington, D.C. in 1956 to provide those in the aviation community a forum to share their collective experience, knowledge, and efforts in the pursuit of progressing the science of air traffic control to ensure a safe flight environment.