Eyes on the skies result in recognition for controller, flight safety

  • Published
  • By John Ingle

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Despite the challenges of a global pandemic, 2020 proved to be a good year for an 80th Flying Training Wing air traffic controller and the wing’s Flight Safety Program, resulting in significant Air Education and Training Command annual awards.

Staff Sgt. Robert Moreno, an air traffic controller at Sheppard AFB for four years, was recently named AETC Air Traffic Controller of the Year, an annual Airfield Operations award.

“When I learned I won the award,” he said, “my first reaction was that I was grateful to all the trainers, mentors, and friends that had helped me achieve this.”

Moreno facilitated pilot training traffic at the Air Force’s second busiest non-combat airfield. His accomplishments over the course of the award period included, but were not limited to handling 10 in-flight emergencies, creating 24 new emergency scenarios for ATC’s simulator training, and ensuring multiple medical evacuation aircraft departed in time to preserve their “golden hour” arrival at their destination.

The 80th FTW’s Flight Safety Office was awarded the General Frank Lahm Trophy for being the most effective AETC Flight Safety Program of 2020. Flight safety is made up of seven members and 23 other augmented contributors. They are either squadron-assigned flight safety officers or casual lieutenants who fill the role of “Bird Dawg,” who assists Sheppard’s USDA Wildlife Biologist Ted Pepps with monitoring and protecting the airfield from associated hazards that pose a threat to flight operations.

“It feels great to have them be recognized for their work. They know the impact their work can have when it is done right, and they act to make that impact happen,” said Maj. Jonathan Mecham, 80th FTW chief of flight safety.

The office improved in multiple areas this year. They revamped their airfield driver training program, leading to an 85% decrease in controlled movement area violations – the lowest in 12 years at Sheppard. Continuing with the trend of decreasing areas of risk, bird strikes were down 35% from the previous five years, crediting the program’s bird and wildlife aircraft strike hazard program.

Near mid-air collisions followed suit, dropping by 33% because of reviewing 16 different previous incidents and dissecting them into briefings. Multiple achievements were indicative of an Air Force-wide impact – a difference maker for the entire branch.

Air traffic controllers and flight safety personnel play an integral part in ensuring the safe and efficient execution of more than 200 training missions daily at Sheppard AFB. The 80th FTW is home to the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program, the only internationally manned and operated pilot training program in the world. ENJJPT is made up of 14 NATO partners, all of whom participate in the program at varying levels.