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NEWS | June 25, 2024

Marine Corps air traffic controllers man international airport during Valiant Shield 24

By Capt. Stephanie Davis, I Marine Expeditionary Force

When United Airlines flight 192 approached Palau International Airport at 2:20 A.M. on June 12, 2024, it was cleared to land by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Kaleb Burks, an air traffic controller with Marine Air Control Squadron 1, Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

The tower at Palau International Airport isn’t typically manned by air traffic control. Pilots receive meteorological information through the airport’s Aerodrome Flight Information Service and communicate their position, altitude, and intentions on a common traffic advisory frequency.

From June 7 to 18, 2024, more than 600 U.S. joint service members participated in exercise Valiant Shield 24 at Palau International Airport and other areas on the islands of Palau, increasing aviation traffic to the airport.

A MACS-1 Marine Air Traffic Control Mobile Team (MMT) provided Federal Aviation Administration certified tower and ground control to Palau International Airport and the immediate airspace, an impressive radius of five nautical miles radius and up to 5,500 feet above the airport. The MMT manned the air traffic control tower at Palau International Airport 24 hours a day throughout the exercise, efficiently directing military, civilian and commercial aircraft—everything from F-22 Raptor fighter jets to Boeing 757 airliners. By the conclusion of Valiant Shield 24, the MMT directed 214 aircraft.

The MMT’s mission was planned months in advance. Marines coordinated closely with the Palau Bureau of Aviation to integrate air traffic control with the airport’s services and infrastructure.

“We’re working with and alongside the Bureau of Aviation to facilitate orderly and expeditious flow of traffic into Palau International,” said Sgt. Andrey Garbuzov, the MMT assistant team leader. “At first, we spent time here not actively controlling to ensure a smooth transition.”

MMTs are mission tailored. During Valiant Shield 24, the MMT consisted of one officer and six enlisted Marines, including a navigational aids technician and a communications technician. Garbuzov brought experience to the team as a Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One trained MMT instructor.

Originally known as the Remote Area Landing Site Team, then the Light and Mobile Team, the MMT concept was developed at MAWTS-1 on September 11, 1989, to support Marine aviation in expeditionary maneuver warfare. Today, the MMT provides initial, rapid response air traffic control and command, control, and communications in support of Marine Air-Ground Task Force, joint or combined operations.

“The MMT provides the initial push, establishing the runway or landing zone,” said 2nd Lt. John Fauntleroy, the MMT team leader. “We can sustain our operations without resupply for 72 hours.”

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Matthew Beaumont, the MMT’s navigational aids technician, is responsible for establishing the tactical air navigation system, commonly referred to as TACAN. The TACAN is a navigation system which provides military aircraft the bearing and distance to the airfield or ship where the aircraft is landing.

“In bad weather, the TACAN will tell pilots how to get to the airfield so that the controllers can give them an approach,” Beaumont says.

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Aidan Donagan is the MMT’s communications technician. During Valiant Shield 24, Donogan monitored multiple radios, phones and chat servers, ensuring the MMT could simultaneously communicate with aircraft, ground crews and airfield management.

The MMT’s careful watch and direction ensured a successful exercise.

“Air traffic control is the voice that controls the chaos of a busy airfield keeping everything safe and orderly,” Garbuzov said.