Clear skies; 26th MEU Marine excels as air traffic controller

9 Nov 2015 | Cpl. Joshua Brown 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

The Marine Corps League awards the Sergeant Maj. Frederick B. Douglass award once a year to a Marine that demonstrates superior qualities and actions during the performance of his duties. An individual needs to receive recommendation from his leadership and approval from a commanding officer for eligibility. Sgt. Jan Kamphuis, an air traffic controller with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 162 (REINFORCED), 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, is the most recent recipient.

Kamphuis, a Warrenton, Virginia, native, is a graduate of Roanoke University, with a bachelor’s degree in history. After graduation, he answered the call to serve his country.

“I’ve always felt it’s the duty and responsibility of Americans to give back and do their part to keep this country safe,” said Kamphuis. “If we want to keep this country great, we have to give back and do our part.”

This life change was greeted with positive reactions from his family. He is the only member of his immediate family to serve in the armed forces; the most recent was his grandfather who served in the Dutch military.

He enlisted with a contract as an air traffic controller.

The occupation includes a range of responsibilities involving the deployment, recovery and tracking of aircraft in various locations.

“He’s a local controller,” said Staff Sgt. Timothy J. Layton, an air traffic controller with the MEU and a Spring Hill, Florida, native. “He is qualified to communicate with aircraft in the local area and get them to the ground.”

Currently, Kamphuis is the local controller for the 26th MEU.

Kamphuis primarily performs his duties in an expeditionary force capacity, building landing zones and refueling points for aircraft prior to their disembarkation from a ship, and establishing communications to direct and control the flow of air traffic to and from these locations.

“It’s a pretty good job,” said Kamphuis. “It can get difficult at times, but it’s rewarding.”

Kamphuis’ leaders have noted his ability to execute well during times others would deem stressful.

“He’s always professional and knows how to stay focused on the situation,” said Layton. “He’s always confident when communicating with the pilots, and that isn’t always easy when you’re trying to ensure two aircraft don’t trade paint in the air.”

One can trust Kamphuis to get the job done and do it in the most professional manner at any time, said Layton.

“You have to stay mentally alert and aware at all times,” said Kamphuis. “When things get difficult, you have to stay calm and control the situation as efficiently as possible.”

Air traffic controllers are responsible for the safety of the personnel onboard aircraft while they are in their respective air spaces, thus it’s imperative they focus all their efforts to the safe coordination and landing of each of the aircraft.

Kamphuis has demonstrated proficiency in his occupation consistently throughout his career and has been recognized via awards like the Sgt. Maj. Frederick B. Douglass award and promotion, earning the rank of sergeant while still completing his first enlistment contract.

“One of the big things he did to win the award was taking the lead in training the sailors we’re integrating with on ship,” said Layton. “When we disembark from a ship, we all work together as an integrated team to set up an airfield, and Kamphuis has taken huge steps in preparing them to work with us and perform while we’re forward positioned.”

Layton, a Marine that laterally moved into the air traffic controller occupational specialty after serving eight years in the infantry, is the assistant team leader on Kamphuis’ team. He’s been Kamphuis’ leader, peer and student at different periods throughout their time as coworkers.

“Kamphuis was the local controller when I got to [Marine Corps Air Station] New River,” said Layton. “He was responsible for me, a staff sergeant, when he was a corporal because of his billeting, and he was an excellent teacher."

In addition to this, Kamphuis has taught and assisted others with various air traffic control certifications. During weapons and tactics instructors’ course, a large-scale training event conducted in Yuma, Arizona, that certifies students of ranks sergeant and above in more advanced air traffic control, he acted as a Marine Corps Air Traffic Control Team augment. Kamphuis was a corporal at the time and unable to attend the course, but as an augment he assisted students with the execution of plans they created for scenarios in the course and was instrumental in the safe execution of over 300 operational flight hours.

These accomplishments have influenced his plans for the future, said Kamphuis. He plans to continue his career in the Marine Corps and seek out more responsibilities.

“I’ve applied for re-enlistment and would like to apply for the enlisted commissioning program if I’m approved,” said Kamphuis. “I already have a college degree, so the commissioning process would be simplified, and I could continue to develop my skills and lead Marines.”

These goals are in keeping with the aspirations his leaders and peers predict he’ll achieve.

“He’s never set a goal that he hasn’t accomplished,” said Layton. “He’s well-educated, capable and one of the best Marines I’ve worked with.”

Further, Kamphuis has his mind set on his current mission while deployed with the MEU and personal improvement on the road to these goals.

“I want to do the best I can in my job, and I want to be the best Marine I can every single day,” said Kamphuis.