A80 Members Pay Respects to Fallen Soldier
Thursday, June 21, 2012
When Atlanta TRACON (A80) member Jeff Wonser read in the local newspaper last week that a fallen soldier from the area was returning home on Saturday, June 16, through Atlanta Regional Airport – Falcon Field (FFC), he initiated a plan of action inside the facility that has become all too familiar, but no less solemn and important.
A80 sits on State Highway 74 in Peachtree City, Ga., just around the corner from FFC. When a fallen soldier arrives at FFC, the motorcade departing the airport passes right by the facility.
“Unfortunately, Peachtree City has had more than its share of fallen soldiers return through Falcon Field,” A80 Facility Representative Mike Ryan said. “I think I've worked four on the radar scope in the short time that I've been here.”
Wonser read in The Citizen that Army Pfc. Brandon D. Goodine, 20, of Luthersville, Ga., died in Maiwand, Afghanistan on June 7 in an explosion caused by an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 4th Squadron, 73rd Calvary Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, N.C.
Wonser made copies of the article on Friday night, June 15. When he arrived for work early on Saturday morning, he put one on the satellite position, one at the traffic management unit scope and one on the operation manager’s desk. He talked to the OM when he came in and called Atlanta Center (ZTL) to start working out direct flight paths, along with Washington Center (ZDC), for the fallen soldier’s aircraft.
“As it got closer and crossed the ZDC/ZTL line, I saw the route line turn from the normal routing to direct FFC,” Wonser said. “I was sitting on departure when he was entering my airspace. I allowed the controller working him to start his descent, slowed the climb of a couple of ATL (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport) departures and turned another so the soldier didn't have to deviate.”
What came next was a testament to the close-knit nature of the pilot-controller community.
“When I leveled an aircraft and turned one of them 20 degrees off his path, and added ‘vectors for fallen soldier,’ there was no complaint, no questions,” Wonser said. “Everyone involved, from the HI-side controllers at ZTL and ZDC to the satellite controller at A80, to the three or four flights that departed the busiest airport in the world had something to do with getting this fallen hero home as quickly as possible.”
For internal communication, it was direct "for a fallen soldier returning home,” and immediately after that, "approved.” No questions, just done.
Word had spread around the facility after the aircraft landed at FFC. Along with A80, there are several industrial plants on Highway 74 with large parking lots.
“Each time I’ve seen a soldier return,” Ryan said, “the parking lots are filled with cars and the highway is lined with hundreds of people paying their respects.”
The procession consists of 50-80 Patriot Guard (Motorcycle) Riders, several police cars and vehicles for the family and the soldier.
“The occasion is very solemn,” Ryan said. “Some folks cry, some salute, some hold flags and some just stand quietly out of respect. This continues for several miles down the highway. The only noise you hear is the sound of the bikes.”
Last Saturday, Wonser said, every NATCA member in the building, who was not on position, was outside the facility paying his or her respects to Pfc. Goodine.
“We had our hands over our hearts, standing on the shoulder of Highway 74 as the procession started,” he said. “We were silent on the walk back to the building.”
Added Ryan: “It is a privilege and an honor that we can do our small part in bringing these guys home to their final resting place. The fact that they land across the street from our building gives our members a unique perspective and opportunity to show our appreciation.”
To read more about Pfc. Goodine, please click here and here.