USS PELELIU, At Sea - Hidden away in a dark room with nothing more than an ominous blue light upon their faces, the men and women of Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) 11 work vigorously to control the coordination and direction of USS Peleliu's (LHA 5) aircraft, both fixed and rotary winged.
TACRON detachments provide centralized scheduling, control and incorporate all air operations during amphibious preparation, maneuvers and transport.
"As a whole, we control aircraft during any assaults the Marines may have to do," said Air Traffic Controller 1st Class Richard Gwinn, TACRON 11 Detachment One Leading Petty Officer. "We have a tactical air controller who controls all helicopters and harriers and directs them to the beach. From there we turn [the aircraft] over to the Supporting Arms Coordination Center (SACC) so that they can coordinate any aircraft to ground fire."
In addition, the squadron can also assist aircraft control facilities ashore in support of amphibious operations and TACRON personnel also serve on the Joint Force/Coalition Force Air Component Commander in theater providing air traffic control and air planning.
The Peleliu detachment formed in January 2012 and began the work up cycle during Iron Fist. Since then, the detachment has remained with the ship.
"We have practiced amphibious assaults, such as [combat air support] and TRAP missions along with the Marines during workups," said Air Traffic Controller 2nd Class
Michael Roger. "These are [skills] that we hope we don't have to utilize but are fully prepared to if called upon."
In addition to their normal contingent of Sailors onboard ship, the TACRON detachment has a Marine Augmentation Team (MAT), a group of air traffic controllers that go ashore with Marines, specifically with Marines from Marine Air Control Group 38, which is a division of 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Aviation Combat Element.
"With the TACRON detachments MAT, it helps them expand their capabilities in setting up expeditionary air fields and landing zones as well as controlling aircraft ashore," said Commander Paul Hockran, executive officer and officer in charge of TACRON 11 Detachment One.
The Sailors of TACRON 11 stressed how important it is their they perform their jobs with the utmost professionalism, "As an air traffic controller, the most
important thing people should realize is when we're in our watch position ,and we're controlling [aircraft], there are a lot of lives at stake," said Roger.
"One little mistake such as the miscommunication of a single word could cost someone their life," said Air Traffic Controller 2nd Class Edwin Afante, TACRON 11 assistant leading petty officer.
The detachment's team is made up specifically of air traffic controllers, operation specialists, an intelligence specialist, a culinary specialist, a logistics specialist and an information systems technician.
Operation specialists play a vital role in TACRON 11's mission.
"Our operations specialists assist in identifying aircraft as friend or foe," said Gwinn. "Sometimes aircraft leave the ship and goes over land during the mission and we need to know if it's a friendly or not so they interrogate them and that's how we know if they can continue in bound or [they're not friendly]."
The TACRON 11 detachment doesn't do this job alone. Many departments aboard the ship synchronize with each other to complete the mission.
"We coordinate with everyone here including SACC, Joint Operations Center and Combat Information Center to complete our mission," Operation Specialist 2nd Class Analea August said.
TACRON 11 is composed of three detachments that provide air control support for the Peleliu, USS Makin Island (LHD 8) and USS Boxer (LHD 4).
"Our detachment, Detachment One, is deployed here onboard Peleliu," said Gwinn. "Another detachment is typically in a surge and a third is getting ready to deploy."
In addition to providing air support, the group also has a trained Expeditionary Response Team.
"We can send Sailors ashore to help in the humanitarian assistance or in disaster relief roles, which is another asset our detachment offers to the overall mission of the Peleliu," Hockran said.
TACRON 11's history dates back the Pacific island hopping campaign during World War II when wartime occurrences required groups that were trained in the management of air support for amphibious operations.
Air Support Control units were created to counsel the amphibious commander on everything involving aircraft service, including air support for troops on land, combat air patrol and anti-submarine patrol.