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The 319th Operations Support Squadron ensures military, civilian missions

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Phyllis Jimenez
  • 319th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

Rain, sleet or snow, the mission must go on.

The 319th Reconnaissance Wing provides a decisional advantage to warfighters and national leaders through the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 40 high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission. The 183 airmen and civilians assigned to the 319th Operations Support Squadron ensure the 319th RW can get the Global Hawk in the air worldwide, and they maintain the safety of the airfield and airspace at Grand Forks Air Force Base.

The 319th OSS is organized into six units:

  • Air Traffic Control Tower – The airmen assigned here operate radar and radio equipment to relay flight information and potential hazards, monitor and report changes in weather, provide takeoff and landing instructions and regulate activity of aircraft in the air and on the ground within their designated airspace.

"The most unique aspect of working at Grand Forks AFB is the mixing of manned and unmanned aircraft in tower pattern," said Senior Airman Coleton Wine, an ATC specialist with the 319th OSS. "Due to the nature of unmanned aircraft most bases do not get the experience we receive here."

  • Radar Approach Control – These airmen ensure the safe and efficient flow of all air traffic operations and provide critical flight information to any aircraft within the RAPCON’s area of responsibility.

"Every day our controllers share knowledge and experience by training and mentoring the next generation of RAPCON apprentice controllers,” said Staff Sgt. Denise Arabie, an ATC watch supervisor with the 319th OSS. “The unique Air Traffic Control experience our apprentices gain by training here will help them for the rest of their careers as the unmanned aircraft system industry continues to grow and develop on a global scale."

  • Airfield Management – These airmen are responsible for the maintenance of runway, airfield lighting and other airfield components and systems.

 "All activity that takes place on the flight line must be vetted through airfield management," said Tech. Sgt. Kyle Loney, the deputy airfield manager with the 319th OSS. "Without constant monitoring and operations planning there is a potential for serious mission degradation due to loss of aircraft during wildlife strikes or pavement failure."

  • Radar, Airfield and Weather Systems – RAWS airmen inspect, repair and maintain air traffic and warning systems, navigational aids, weather equipment, and radios.

“We are the silent professionals in the background, and the scope of responsibility we hold is huge!” said Staff Sgt. Conner Schlegel, 319th OSS RAWS maintenance supervisor. “The equipment we maintain enables other units to do their job.” 

  • Weather – These Airman utilize the latest technology to predict weather patterns, prepare forecasts and communicate weather information to air traffic controllers, mission planners and flying squadrons here and at geographically separated units.

"A lot of weather flights only have to monitor the base weather," said Staff Sgt. Andrew Massey, a weather craftsman with the 319th OSS. "The significant thing about forecasting for Grand Forks AFB is that, because of the global mission, we have to monitor weather all over the world."

  • Formal Training Unit/Student Flight – Instructors assigned to the FTU provide initial qualification training for Global Hawk pilots and sensor operators. They also provide upgrade training for instructor pilots and sensor operators assigned to the 348th Reconnaissance Squadron.

“All instructors at the FTU play a vital role training operators in support of national defense objectives,” said Tech. Sgt. Alexander Oas, an RQ-4 evaluator sensor operator with the 319th OSS. “Graduates of the FTU directly support combatant commanders in the collection of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for overseas contingency operations.”

The 319th OSS oversees the base’s 12,000-foot-long runway and 4,200 square miles of airspace, encompassing two controlled airports and 13 uncontrolled airfields. Averaging more than 150,000 operations annually, the RAPCON at Grand Forks AFB is the sixth busiest radar facility in the Air Force.

Due to the Global Hawk being an unmanned aerial system that can be controlled remotely almost anywhere, the air traffic controllers at Grand Forks AFB spend the majority of their time supporting federal partners and neighboring civilian flying operations.

“Uniquely, we don't have a ton of military traffic in the local area,” said Lt. Col. Joshua Arens, the commander of the 319th OSS. “A bulk of what we do helps support local law enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, The University of North Dakota, and Grand Sky.”

The airmen assigned to the 319th OSS support the wing’s global mission as well as civilian partners by keeping a safe airspace, maintaining an operable airfield and forecasting weather conditions across the globe. The critical support the 319th OSS provides creates a demand for these airmen to function around-the-clock, every day of the year.

“The sacrifices that the OSS airmen make to support the mission is just incredible,” Arens said. “They enable both manned and unmanned operations 24-hours a day, including nights, weekends and holidays. I'm super proud of them and their lean-forward attitude.”