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Air traffic controllers to test operations savvy

ST JOSEPH, Mo. -- Nearly 100 Airmen with the 241st Air Traffic Control Squadron here will test their operational skills in a two-week June exercise at Rosecrans Memorial Airport, officials announced recently.

Using their two weeks of annual field training this month, the squadron will hold the operational readiness exercise, in initial preparations for a major exercise in 2015.

"This hones our skills to go out and do it real-world," said Maj. John Howie, the squadron's commander.

Exercise simulations in chemical warfare, the ability to survive and operate, self-aid buddy care, post-attack reconnaissance and other operational skills are scheduled.

"We exercise mostly on the command and control aspect and the operational aspect, providing air traffic control services during combat conditions," said Howie.

Although the squadron recently went through a major operational readiness exercise last year, Howie said these early preparations for 2015 train Airmen in new roles and responsibilities.

Howie also said the exercises and preparations provide controllers as well as equipment maintenance personnel valuable hands-on time using their mobile equipment, which they deploy with.

"Most of my air traffic controllers work for the FAA and are used to working on the more modern equipment at those facilities," said Howie. "They come back here and work on their mobile equipment to continue their training and skills."

At the same time, the squadron is packing and preparing equipment for a real-world deployment at Tarkio, Mo., this July.

"There's no better practice than doing it real world," said Howie.

There are 10 air traffic control squadrons in the Air Guard, which handle roughly 65 percent of the Air Force's war time air traffic control tasking. That includes establishing air operations at austere locations the Army secures and hands over.

"We bring air traffic in," said Howie.

In that capacity, the entire squadron deployed shortly after the Army secured Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, in 2002. The Airmen were the first air traffic control squadron to establish and run regular air operations there.

"The training we had before that deployment prepared us," said Howie. "The training that we hold now prepares us for future contingencies."