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Air traffic control tower Airman receives certification; first female in over two years at Dover AFB

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Stephani Barge
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- In a career field where one wrong decision can lead to destruction, air traffic controllers carry the heavy responsibility of responding to every circumstance with speed, precision and control. Not all trainees can handle the challenges that air traffic control throws their way. Because of this, when an Airman excels in their upgrade training, it is a cause for celebration. Add in that the Airman is female and you have the makings of a career field anomaly.

Such is the case for the 436th Operations Support Squadron air traffic control tower team as they celebrated Airman 1st Class Alexis Casey, the first female air traffic control tower trainee to earn her five-level upgrade at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, in nearly 2 1/2 years.

“Only 16.8% of air traffic controllers are female,” said Master Sgt. Lindsey Pace, 436th Operations Support Squadron Air Traffic Control chief controller. “[Casey] is one of four females in our facility of more than 30 people. So every female that gets certified is a win for us.”

Air traffic control trainees spend between nine to 12 months in upgrade training, all of which is conducted on the job. Trainees must know Federal Aviation Administration and Air Force rules and everything about the airfield and airspace in which they work. Additionally, they must be familiar with characteristics and separation requirements for every airframe stationed at Dover AFB, as well as those traveling through.

“It's a lot of pressure to get rated, since there is a certain amount of time to finish training,” said Casey, 436th OSS air traffic control journeyman. “You're always wanting to see improvement and you’re constantly doing something. You can't show slack in this job, but if you put in the work [getting rated] is possible.”

Casey is also the only Dover AFB female tower trainee to be nominated as a Position Certified Apprentice Controller. PCAC is an Air Mobility Command initiative that allows trainees to work unmonitored in certified positions prior to earning their five level. This is a significant achievement since trainees always have a trainer with them until they achieve their upgrade. When Airmen are nominated to be PCAC certified, it signifies they are performing well above standards and the trainer has confidence in their abilities.

“On one of her weekly training evaluations, her trainer stated ‘[Airman Casey] asked for more C-17’s to be added to her simulation because she wanted to learn more about their characteristics’”, said Pace. “Not once in my career have I seen a trainee ask for more airplanes in the simulator.”

While Casey has seen much success during her training, she has also had her fair share of challenges. But no matter the circumstances, her team was there to support her.

“Toward the last month and a half of my training, I hit a wall where I had constant progression, and then it just stopped,” she said. “It was really nerve-wracking because the timer was counting down and getting close to certification day. My crew helped me build confidence, which is a big key factor in our job because you need to give [the pilots] warm fuzzies in order to work your pattern. So I’m very appreciative of that.”

Casey is the only female in her team and views this fact as motivation to prove she can do anything her teammates do. The team doesn’t treat Casey any differently and believe in a culture of respect and equality.

Casey’s strong drive to face challenges and dedication to continuous self-improvement was on full display in 2020, when the COVID-19 lockdown forced a three-month training stoppage. She immersed herself in volunteer opportunities during this time, and once work resumed, she rededicated herself to the training program, maintaining a 95% average on all of her exams and earning her certification early.

“[Airman] Casey impressed me from the get-go when she started her training. She was always in the books, asking for as much time in position as possible, 100 percent focused on her mission to get certified and maintained a fantastic attitude the whole time,” said Pace. “She is known for helping other trainees, motivating and supporting them. She is a fantastic addition to our team, I could not be more proud of her and I cannot wait to see [who] she becomes.”

Casey has proven that she can handle the intense responsibilities and pressures that come with air traffic control and looks forward to the challenge.

“I love this job. I didn't know what I was getting into when I started, but I'm glad I got into air traffic because it's very fitting with my mindset, and I’m not doing the same thing over and over.”

Casey’s contributions have already been felt by the 436th OSS team, who value her hard work and dedication, as well as the much needed diversity she brings to the table.

“The 436th OSS’s motto is ‘Diversity is Our Strength,'" said Lt. Col. David Bredesen, 436th OSS commander. “[Airman] Casey brings valuable diversity to our air traffic control team, and I am proud to have her in the OSS.”