Air traffic controllers go from "zero to 60" at Operation Northern Strike

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Daniel Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs

As an air traffic controller at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Frisch has days where the peaceful, relatively slow pace of northern Michigan can quickly be ramped up by the arrival of multiple types of fast-moving military aircraft.  


"We're a plug-and-play unit," said Frisch. "We provide the support so other military units can get in here and get the training they need, so that they are ready to go."


For three weeks in August, the Alpena CRTC and Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center serves as the two hubs for Operation Northern Strike, a National Guard-led, joint forces exercise that will generate more than 300 aircraft sorties to train in multiple missions, most of them in close coordination with ground forces. Twenty-four units from 12 states and two coalition partners will participate. The Alpena CRTC controls the largest complex air space east of the Mississippi River.


"The air space is really unlimited," Frisch said. "We are able to work with the pilots to ensure that they are able to accomplish all of their training objectives."


Frisch enlisted in 1997 and he has been an air traffic controller with the U.S. Air Force since 2001. Since 2006, the southeast Michigan native has been a full-time member of the Michigan Air National Guard, serving at Alpena.


Frisch and other controllers at the base handle local traffic, including twice-daily passenger flights that operate from the adjacent Alpena Regional Airport, as well as military traffic at the CRTC.


Master Sgt. Thomas Frutus, serves as a supervisor in the Federal Aviation Administration control center at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, but his primary duty as a traditional member of the Michigan Air National Guard is to serve as a combat air space manager with the 217th Air Operations Squadron in Battle Creek. Yet, he often spends several weeks in the summer at Alpena CRTC helping out in the busy season, including this year at Northern Strike.




"At Metro, we never deviate from the norm," Frutus said. "In an operation like Northern Strike, we may not be handling the volume of aircraft that we do at Metro, but the aircraft we are handling are moving in multiple patterns, accomplishing different missions. In both scenarios, a controller needs to stay focused and be able to adjust to what's happening around him or her."


With aircraft from more than a dozen different units participating in Northern Strike, both Frutus and Frisch said August will be a busy time at Alpena.


"We can go from quiet to a flight of fighter aircraft moving into our space in a hurry. So to say we go from zero to 60 - that's maybe times 10," Frisch said. "But a controller wants to control aircraft. We are a key part of the overall mission."


About the Michigan National Guard
The Michigan National Guard's 12,000 Soldiers and Airmen stand ready to serve both state and nation. With operations at three air fields, two major training bases and more than 40 armories around the state, Michigan National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are trained to provide a wide-range of disaster response and other support to civil authorities, while maintaining a high degree of combat readiness. The Michigan National Guard operates two State Partnership for Peace programs, with Latvia (since 1993) and Liberia (since 2009). Joint Forces Headquarters is in Lansing.

About Operation Northern Strike
Centered at two of the nation's largest National Guard training facilities - Camp Grayling Joint Military Training Center and the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center - Operation Northern Strike is an annual National Guard Bureau sponsored Combined Live Fire Exercise. The exercise emphasizes the Theatre Air Control and Army Air Ground Systems (TACS/AAGS) within the Theatre Air Ground System (TAGS). It blends Maneuver, Close Air Support (CAS), Joint Fire Support, and Air Mobility in both Major Combat Operations and limited Operation Enduring Freedom scenarios.