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Day in the Life: ATC Students keep eyes on the sky

Pvt. Ben Collier and Pvt. Doug Cohee, air traffic control students, both of A Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment, direct simulated air traffic in a simulator at Braman Hall June 10. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Pvt. Ben Collier and Pvt. Doug Cohee, air traffic control students, both of A Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment, direct simulated air traffic in a simulator at Braman Hall June 10. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: June 13, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (June 13, 2014) -- Fort Rucker’s skies are filled with the familiar sound of rotor blades chopping through the air, but without air traffic controllers on the ground, those birds might be in for a rough ride.

That type of responsibility is what drives air traffic control students Pvt. Ben Collier and Pvt. Doug Cohee, both of A Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment.

Collier came to Fort Rucker from Jacksonville, Fla., where he was living with his three siblings when he decided he wanted to get out and experience life, he said.  And what better way to do that than to join the Army?

Cohee made his way to the installation from Greensburg, Ind., and said he decided he wanted to do something more with his life, so he decided to join the Army, as well.

The two Soldiers came from two completely different walks of life, yet found themselves together on the path to become air traffic controllers.

Their day typically begins at 5 a.m. when they are called to wake up, and by 5:30 a.m., they are out in the field for physical training. After PT, they conduct barracks maintenance, personal hygiene and eat breakfast – routine procedures for trainees.

After breakfast is when their day as air traffic control students begin.

“At 8 a.m. we get into formation to come to school and we’ll march to the school to start learning for the day,” said Collier.

Between the hours of 8:30-10:45 a.m., and noon to 4:45 p.m., the student’s sole focus is on learning.

Having been on the installation for about eight weeks, Cohee and Collier have graduated to the point in their training to learn at Braman Hall, where they learn tower academics in simulators.

“We’ve been here at this building for about three weeks now,” said Cohee. “This is where we learn a lot of phraseology that’s associated with air traffic control. They teach us a lot of what we need to know for when we go into the simulators.”

“We started learning about ground control – learning where to taxi aircraft that are arriving and departing the airfield,” said Collier. “After a week in ground training, we tested out and moved on to local control.”

Local control training, which is currently the point the students have reached in their training, is said to be much more difficult than ground. They must tell aircraft that arrive on the airfield, and coming in and out of the airspace, how to move and where to go.

“Ground was easier – local is pretty difficult,” said Cohee. “With ground, you’re just telling aircraft on the ground to taxi to a runway or hold short, but with local you’re doing a lot of sequencing, like clearing aircraft to land, clearing aircraft to take off and things like that. There’s just a lot more involved.”

In their third week of training at Braman Hall, the pair said the toughest part so far has been knowing when to use the proper phraseology.

“The phraseology itself wasn’t too difficult to learn, but knowing when to say it and putting it all together is where it really becomes a challenge,” said Collier. “The most challenging part so far is keeping everything organized, especially when dealing with local control. You have to keep track of when an aircraft has landed, what type of aircraft it was and things like that – it’s a huge responsibility.”

Although the responsibilities are high, Collier said that he feels the rewards when the training clicks in his mind and he is able to apply it properly.

“When I tested out of ground, I got a flawless run, which made me pretty happy,” he said. “I’m aiming for the same results on the local testing.”

At this point in their training, ATC students don’t get much time to themselves, afforded only a few hours of time to themselves during the week, which normally runs from chow time at 5 p.m. to bed checks at 8 p.m.

Even though they have those few precious hours of free time, much of that time is spent either studying or helping out fellow students, said Collier.

“We normally change into our normal clothes and go around post, get any shopping that we need done and sometimes we even help some other people study if they need it,” he said. “There was one week where a bunch of us met at a pavilion, and we pretended as if we were in the tower and acted as if we had flight shifts.”

Fortunately, the pair is at the point of training where they are allowed off the installation on weekends if they wish.

During initial training, ATC students aren’t allowed to venture off the installation until they test out of Phase-4 training and earn the privilege, said Cohee, which is done by passing a PT test, Army service uniform inspection and TA50 battle gear inspection.

Despite all they’ve been through so far, the two students said they’re looking forward to the rest of their training, no matter how difficult it gets.

“I love it,” said Collier. “It’s challenging, but I try to think of it more like a video game rather than hard work – it helps keep my mind set to where I can do it.”

“The training has been difficult, but manageable,” added Cohee. “I’ve gone through it pretty easily up to this point, and I’m struggling a little bit now, but I’ll get through it.”

This article was originally published at

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