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CJTF-HOA Marines act as ambassadors at Djibouti airport

By Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald | | February 12, 2003

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Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, a group of Marines here in support of Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa are helping to keep the skies over Djibouti safe and sound.

Marines from Marine Air Control Squadron - 2 (MACS-2) at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., make up the Air Traffic Control Detachment here.

Members of the detachment work hand-in-hand with Djiboutian and French air traffic controllers in the control tower to ensure military and civilian aircraft land and take off safely at the Djibouti International Airport.

"The French and Djiboutians take care of their own aircraft," said Sgt. Jeremiah A. Clark, of Chesterfield, Va. "We take care of American air traffic, but we also help the French and Djiboutians communicate with our pilots. Our job is to make sure no one gets hurt."

According to Clark, who has been a controller for six years, there is a big misconception about his job.

"A lot of people think 'air traffic control' means that we are down on the runway, but we are not the guys who park the airplanes," he said adamantly. "We are the ones up in the control tower making sure everything runs smoothly."

Clark said, "The controllers work in pairs. For two days, we'll work from (7 a.m. to 7 p.m.). Then we'll switch from (7 p.m. to 7 a.m.). We get two days a week off."

While on shift, the Marines serve as the liaison between the American pilots and the French and Djiboutian controllers, according to Lance Cpl. Dwight P. Thompson. 

"It's like any job. Sometimes you're really busy, and sometimes it seems pretty slow," he said. "When we have a lot of air traffic, things get hectic."

During lulls in activity, the Marines and their Djiboutian and French counterparts spend time getting to know each other.

"For the most part, we get along very well with the guys who work up here," said Thompson, of Fayetteville, N.C. native. "They bring us food sometimes, and they have invited us to go into town with them so they can show us around."

Thompson said the Marines keep busy most of the time.

"I think we've all done a really good job out here," admitted Clark. "We all work very hard so everyone stays safe."
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