News | Sept. 7, 2023

NAS Pax River Air Traffic Control Makes History with All-Women Air Traffic Control Crew

By Chief Petty Officer Patrick Gordon

On May 30, for the first time in Naval Air Station Patuxent River’s 80-year history, its Air Traffic Control Facility (ATCF) was completely staffed by women. The Air Traffic Controllers (ACs) served in nine watch stations between the NAS Pax River Air Traffic Control Tower, Radar Operations and Flight Planning.

NAS Patuxent River, Maryland is a Class IV Facility and is considered one of the most complex ATCFs in the Navy’s AC community. The NAS Pax River control tower works in excess of 40,000 flight operations per year, and its radar operations control over 6,000-square-miles of airspace, including the Special Use Airspace complex, and provides approach control service to 14 additional airports.

“We call getting fully qualified at Pax equivalent to earning your Ph. D. in Air Traffic Control,” said ACC Kristen Costlow, NAS Patuxent River Air Traffic Control Training Chief. “In order to become fully qualified here at Pax, you have to go through a rigorous training pipeline of 14 air traffic control qualifications. On average, it takes three years to obtain designation as a Facility Watch Supervisor, which is the highest qualification you can obtain after completing the prior 13 qualifications.”

NAS Patuxent River had previously marked a similar milestone in 2018 with an all-women Air Traffic Control qualified tower crew, but this was the first time in the station’s history that all positions on the air traffic control watch were staffed entirely by women Sailors.

“When I checked in to Pax in February 2018, the women controllers on board made history by having enough qualified women to staff the entire control tower,” Costlow said. “Now, in 2023, we can run the entire facility by ourselves, 100-percent female. A class IV facility. The most complex facility and aggressive air traffic control training pipeline in the Navy. This goes beyond us being proud of ourselves for standing out in a male-dominant rating. This sets the example for their daughters, sisters and future women that aspire to join the Navy. We have 70 controllers on board, 13 of them are female. The ability to fully staff the ATCF with all women is truly a historical milestone for NAS Pax.”

While all the Pax River ACs are extremely focused on their demanding jobs in Air Traffic Control, they did pause briefly to remark on the gravity of the occasion. Twelve stories up in the Pax River Air Traffic Control Tower, Tower Supervisor and Local Controller AC1 Amanda Galentine, Ground Controller AC1 Talyssa Martin and Flight Data Operator AC2 Brianna Boore made note of the occasion in between flights.

“It’s pretty cool; you don’t see this very often at many facilities,” Galentine said. “My Senior Chief at my last shore facility—I really look up to her and she’s one of my mentors—I think she’d be especially pleased to know that this happened. She’s a Master Chief now, so it’s not only nice to see a female leader, she helped me grow into the person and leader I am today. So, to be standing here with these other professional women ACs is awesome.”

Across the street from the tower in the Air Operations building, Flight Planning Supervisor/Dispatch-AC2 Autumn Rauen, in between phone calls remarked on the impact this will have on future ACs.

“I think this will be particularly impactful on new airmen coming in, both men and women, seeing that women are capable of doing these kinds of jobs and not just relegated to the background,” Rauen said. “It’s good to have all these quals to show the people who still say that women can’t do certain things.”

Up in the radar room, Costlow and her crew of Approach Controller AC1 Kristy Lescrynski, Sector Controller AC1 Erica Headrick, Clearance Delivery AC2 Syrenia Cuevas, and Final Controller AC2 Tieraney Edmond diligently tracked aircraft, pausing only to take a photo and to offer a few words.

“This speaks volumes of the hard work these women have put in to their professional development and dedication to the team by earning qualifications in record time,” Costlow said. “You’re looking at some trailblazers in the Air Traffic Control community.”

Later in the day the remaining ACs on watch were visited by Capt. Derrick Kingsley, NAS Patuxent River commanding officer, who presented command coins to the all-women crew and offered words of encouragement.

“In the 26 years I’ve been in the Navy I haven’t seen too many milestones like this, and I’m pleased it happened on my air station,” Kingsley said. “When I first joined the Navy, women were just beginning to fill roles in combatant commands, now you all have played a part in the Navy’s history too. I’m damn proud to be your skipper.”

Chief Petty Officer Patrick Gordon is a public affairs officer with the Navy Office of Information, Media Content Operations-Navy Reserve Component, at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.