Photo Information

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Xinxin Dai, an air traffic control communications technician, attaches a harness to a radio tower in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan, May 17, 2022. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni’s radio towers are maintained weekly because of their vital role in the communication and safety between several units at the air station. Due to the geographic scope of the Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility MCAS Iwakuni serves as a vital link between multiple countries in the Western Pacific theater.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Isaac Orozco

Don't Look Down: Air Traffic Control communication technician Marines maintain radio tower

14 Jun 2022 | Lance Cpl. Isaac Orozco The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

Communication: a central part of everyday life. Whether it be for emotional, economical, or extracurricular purposes or anything in between, communication is a critical factor in bringing order from chaos. For Marines with the Air Traffic Control Maintenance Division of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, it is a matter of security and safety. To prevent miscommunication from the air or the ground, the Marines travel to a location called Sofu site, where a radio tower pivotal in keeping communications uninterrupted between training areas on base lies. The Marines who travel to the tower understand the importance of maintaining the tower at all times of the day.

"The job is absolutely important to the base. Safety issues arise in flight if there is no communication." Staff Sgt. Reagan Miller, ATC communications supervisor

The Sofu tower stands in an isolated area where buildings are scarce, and foliage fills the empty space. The tower itself overlooks a vast emerald countryside where the only hint of technology lies within an immense metal structure with wires and dongles draping across its frame. When travelling to this location, the Marines come equipped with various tools to check for irregular activities in radio frequencies, structures, and wiring. In addition, they are equipped with special harnesses to assist them in scaling towers safely and efficiently.

"Climbing and maintaining the Sofu tower is definitely not for everyone," Miller stated. "Personally, I think it's an experience because I love heights and it gives different scenery from the base, but for others, it can be a little nerve-racking being that high up."

On one of the most recent trips to the Sofu tower, Lance Cpl. Xinxin Dai, an ATC Communication Technician, was tasked with checking for any irregular communication errors that may be occurring at the tower. After going over the facility engineering plan and adjusting radio configurations on the ground, Dai began scaling the tower and working on one of the many antennas elevated high above the ground where the ambient sound of wind and birds were his only company.

"I enjoy the solitude very much," Dai said. "I also enjoy the opportunity to work in this environment. Once you climb up the tower you almost don't want to climb down."

Marines who scale the tower, like Dai, are well trained on safety and are experienced in operating on tall structures. Spending long hours on the tower is not uncommon, so coming equipped with all the right tools is a must. Eventually, it becomes second nature to scale the tower.

"The first time I climbed up here, sure it was intimidating with the wind blowing that day and the scale of the tower itself was huge," Dai said. "However, I have trust in our equipment and now going up there is no problem."

Marines like Dai clock in many hours working high above the ground, snug in their safety equipment while fixing signals and communication errors that may occur at the tower. Once the issue is resolved, they pack up all their gear and leave the area with a job well done. Having done the job few would have the courage to take up in the first place, the ride back is a quiet, peaceful one through the very same countryside they were just looking down at just a few moments ago.

"Doing a job like this feels like we're a part of something bigger than ourselves," said Dai. "Like our sweat and hard work are going into something really important and that feels satisfying to know."