Ft. Rucker soldiers utilize SARA for training

Published 1:20 am Friday, June 16, 2017

South Alabama Regional Airport (SARA) and Fort Rucker are partners in many ways, including special training under way here this week.

The Army’s highly trained Airfield Operations Battalion (ABO) uses local airports to conduct its much-needed training for tactical air traffic services. For the next two weeks, Lt. Col. Beau Tibbitts and Fort Rucker’s AOB will call SARA home.

Tibbitts said that his battalion is using this training exercise as a field environment, meaning that his soldiers also use the time to train on not just setting up air traffic equipment, but also tents, mobile kitchen and water supply.

The AOB uses local airports for their training as to not interfere with the radar used for training helicopter pilots at Fort Rucker.

“Our relationship with the Andalusia community is very important,” Tibbitts said. “There is a number of training traffic at Fort Rucker that my unit really shouldn’t be interrupting, so coming to an airport like this to do our training is essential. Fort Rucker also has its own radar system. So, if we set up ours it conflicts with their frequencies so we come to Andalusia to provide that frequency separation.”

South Alabama Regional Airport no longer has a radar system, so the training is also beneficial for the airport as the soldiers use their radars to monitor and control air traffic going through the airport.

“We average about 120 operations per day and up to 60 aircrafts,” SARA Executive Director Jed Blackwell said.

During the AOB’s time in Andalusia they have monitored not just civilian air traffic but also military traffic.

Tibbitts and his battalion boast a mobile tower system, tactical Hum-V system with radios, mobile radar and a tactical air control system.

“This is a great opportunity, with the traffic out here, to get some good practice for my guys,” Tibbitts said. “All of my soldiers are qualified air traffic controllers and each controller has a semi-annual requirement of controlling a number of systems.”

An added benefit for the soldiers in the AOB is that they are already qualified as air traffic controllers, and some as maintenance workers qualified to work on radars, if they ever decide to leave the military.

The AOB unit not only has their own city of tents set up at the airport but a mobile kitchen, which Tibbitts said is a new addition to the battalion and a much-appreciated one.

Over the weekend Tibbitts and his battalion will pack up their equipment and move out, before coming right back to set up all over again as an exercise to get more training on setup before another week of flight control.

“We are an expedition-type unit so we can deploy on a shorter notice,” Tibbitts said. “So, here we get to practice setting up our tents, camouflage and tactical environment along with practicing on the air traffic services.”