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JBLE air traffic team exceeds standards, earns AF-level award

(From left) U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Richard Smith, 1st Operation Support Squadron air traffic controller, and Staff Sgt. Joshua Shaffer, 1st OSS tower watch supervisor pose for a photo at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Sept. 26, 2017.

(From left) U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Richard Smith, 1st Operation Support Squadron air traffic controller, and Staff Sgt. Joshua Shaffer, 1st OSS tower watch supervisor pose for a photo at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Sept. 26, 2017. Smith and Shaffer are scheduled to deploy together, leaving the tower with the well-taught Airmen that they each trained. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexandra Singer)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joshua Shaffer, 1st Operations Support Squadron tower watch supervisor, performs a visual check to make sure the air space is clear of birds at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Sept. 26, 2017.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joshua Shaffer, 1st Operations Support Squadron tower watch supervisor, performs a visual check to make sure the air space is clear of birds at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Sept. 26, 2017. As a watch supervisor, he oversees all activity going on at the top of the control tower, along with anything else that might be needed, such as training for new Airmen or additional duties. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexandra Singer)

(From left) U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Richard Smith, 1st Operation Support Squadron air traffic controller, shows Staff Sgt. Joshua Shaffer, 1st OSS tower watch supervisor, a radar screen at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Sept. 26, 2017.

(From left) U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Richard Smith, 1st Operation Support Squadron air traffic controller, shows Staff Sgt. Joshua Shaffer, 1st OSS tower watch supervisor, a radar screen at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Sept. 26, 2017. In the coming months, Shaffer and Smith are scheduled to deploy together. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexandra Singer)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joshua Shaffer, 1st Operations Support Squadron tower watch supervisor works at his station at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Sept. 26, 2017.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joshua Shaffer, 1st Operations Support Squadron tower watch supervisor works at his station at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Sept. 26, 2017. The ATC has guidelines and rules that each person must follow during their shifts to ensure all aircraft arrive and depart safely. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexandra Singer)

(From left) U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joshua Shaffer, 1st Operations Support Squadron tower watch supervisor, and Senior Airman Richard Smith, 1st OSS air traffic controller, brief their crew before starting the evening shift at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Sept. 26, 2017.

(From left) U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joshua Shaffer, 1st Operations Support Squadron tower watch supervisor, and Senior Airman Richard Smith, 1st OSS air traffic controller, brief their crew before starting the evening shift at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Sept. 26, 2017. Shaffer trained Smith on most of his tasks starting from local, which is the person in the tower talking to the pilot, all the way to today, where he’s training him to be an on watch supervisor. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexandra Singer)

The Air Traffic Control tower team poses for a group photo at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Sept. 26, 2017

The Air Traffic Control tower team poses for a group photo at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Sept. 26, 2017. The tower received the D. Ray Hardin Air Traffic Control Facility of the Year award, which is given to an ATC facility that has made notable contributions to the ATC system. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexandra Singer)

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --

The Air Traffic Control Tower team received recognition for its efforts during an abundance of high visibility events that happened last year.

The tower was awarded the D. Ray Hardin Air Traffic Control Facility of the Year award, at the Air Force and Air Combat Command level.

The award, which is given to an ATC facility that has made notable contributions to the ATC system, is judged on a variety of areas ranging from unusual traffic work load to deployments and emergency situations.

For the people working in the tower, the recognition meant a lot. Over the course of the past year, they put in a great deal of work to help the office and runway successfully generate airpower. From the junior enlisted to the officers, the service members at the ATC tower are willing to put in the extra effort during times of low manning.

According to the team, without each and every person stepping up to play their part, they would not have earned the award, and the tower would not be an ideal place to work.

“The tower has a high turnover due to deployments and separations,” said Master Sgt. Daniel Sluss, 1st Operations Support Squadron assistant chief controller. “For the controllers, there’s opportunity to work as a civilian in the Federal Aviation Administration, so a lot of Airmen end up leaving after their first term. We have a lot of people deploying regularly also, leaving us short staffed.”

According to Sluss, through the hard work of seasoned veterans who have stayed in, and the Airmen arriving from technical school, the tower has maintained its excellent work ethic.

One example of someone who went above and beyond for the team is Staff Sgt. Joshua Shaffer, a 1st OSS watch supervisor.

Technically, Shaffer wasn’t supposed to be in the watch supervisor position until this past September. During a very critical time, when manning was extremely low, Shaffer was granted a waiver to be a watch supervisor five months early. As a watch supervisor for the tower, Shaffer stepped up to learn how to oversee all activity going on at the top of the control tower, along with anything else that might be needed.

With new skills at his disposal, Shaffer hopes to further strengthen his team by passing down his expertise to the incoming Airmen.

“We call it a tower team concept,” Shaffer said. “Everybody up there has your back, especially during chaos. Some trainees will need a softer touch going into training and others will need a kick in the butt. It’s all about what works and passing down your knowledge to the next generation.”

According to Senior Airman Richard Smith, 1st OSS air traffic controller, the goal is to make the next generation of controllers better than the last. With extensive training and a lot of time, each trainee will at least be at the level of their trainer or better.

Smith has worked with Shaffer since the beginning of his career at Joint Base Langley-Eustis. Shaffer trained Smith on most of his tasks starting from local, which is the person in the tower talking to the pilot, all the way to today, where he’s training him to be an on watch supervisor.

“My aunt is contracted out at Dover [Air Force Base] and she asked me if I was sure I wanted to be an air traffic controller,” Smith said. “Not because she didn’t think I could do it, but because, she knew it was extremely competitive. She was looking out for my best interest because she’s family. These guys are like family, they look out for my best interest and they got me where I am [today].”

The training and constant support from his team pushed Smith to earn the Air Traffic Controller of the Year award at the Air Combat Command and Air Force levels. He also won the Air Traffic Control Association Military Air Traffic Controller of the Year award.

“The award really goes hand-in-hand with the award the whole facility was given,” Smith said. “It’s our culture here to train people to be even better than we are. You don’t want to be working next to someone who isn’t at least on your level because we’re all in this together.”

In the coming months, Shaffer and Smith are scheduled to deploy together. Although the tower team will be losing two great Airmen, they are confident that the people they’ve trained will be the next best and keep the airpower mission going strong.