EAGLE BASE, Bosnia and Herzegovina -- They were the first group from Stabilization Force 14 to arrive in Bosnia and Herzegovina and without them, no one else could have gotten there -- by air anyway.
Fourteen soldiers from the 34th Infantry Division's Company B, 147th Air Traffic Service unit out of Camp Ripley landed in Bosnia in July, shortly after completing mobilization in-processing at Fort McCoy, Wis. They are scheduled to be there through March.
While most of the division went to Fort Polk, La., for further training before coming to Bosnia, members of the Air Traffic Service were sent directly to Eagle Base to begin training on the radar equipment at the Ground Control Approach Facility. Their mission is to safely guide aircraft on their final approach to the airfield.
"Every base has equipment specific to that base," said Sgt. Christopher Budahn, one of the unit's facility chiefs for the Ground Control Approach Facility. "As a result, we are required to be evaluated and complete a rating process before we can operate the equipment we use without supervision."
The rating process takes up to four months and involves reading material, written tests and hands-on experience using equipment specific to the Ground Control Approach Facility the soldiers work in.
Two DOD civilians along with soldiers from Stabilization Force 13 both trained and rated soldiers from Stabilization Force 14. Two soldiers from Stabilization Force 13 stayed on for Stabilization Force 14 to provide enough rated personnel to complete the rating process for the 147th Air Traffic Service.
Eagle Base experiences a lot of foggy conditions, which make high competency levels important to attain for the unit's soldiers, Budahn said.
The 147th Air Traffic Service's Ground Control Approach Facility sits by itself across the airfield from the rest of Eagle Base in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"Foggy times should be our busiest times, but safety is a big factor, so aircraft try and avoid flying in here when fog is too thick," Budahn said. "But, we are trained, so if and when an aircraft needs to land, we are ready."
"We are a very specialized unit," said Staff Sgt. Casey King, one of the SFOR 13 soldiers who stayed on to rate soldiers from SFOR 14. "There are only about 11 ATS units in the National Guard nation-wide."
As a result, ATS companies are in big demand whenever Guard units are deployed, King said.
Budahn could verify the demand part. Other members of the 147th ATS recently were deployed to Southwest Asia.
"It seems with all that is going on, we can expect to be called up about every two years," Budahn said.
For Sgt. Linnea Siebolds, air traffic controller, being with the 147th ATS is a positive experience.
"I really like it. We are a small group and because we work way on the other side of the base, we do a lot of things together," Siebolds said.
In fact, members of the unit probably have as far to go to get to work each day as anyone who lives on base. It's about two miles in one direction and two and a half miles in the other direction, Siebolds said.
The Ground Control Approach Facility is on the perimeter road on Eagle Base, directly across base and the airfield from their living quarters. The only way there is the long way around; cutting across the airfield is not an option. A big radar dish and a military tent along with several permanent brown buildings mark the unit's outpost.
"Every now and then someone running or walking the perimeter will stop and ask for water," Siebolds said. "But most of the time, we are pretty much alone out here."
The GCAF is staffed and open from 8 a.m. to midnight and members of the unit are on standby after midnight and immediately available if needed.
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