Range Control ‘last line of defense’ in training

13 Mar 2014 | Lance Cpl. Jackeline M. Perez Rivera

Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune’s Range Control ensures the safety of the service members throughout the base’s many training areas.

Blackburn, the call sign for Range Control’s fire desk operators, uses various technologies and years of military experience to monitor the base’s air, land and sea in real-time to keep service members safe.

The base’s training areas include 98,000 acres with 200 miles of airspace and 11 nautical miles of coastline throughout the base. 

“We know where people are shooting, where they are flying and where they are training,” said John Wilsey, a fire desk operator with range control. “Most people don’t see the ships off the coast, or the aircraft in the sky. We look at the big picture all day long and react to whatever dangers could happen.”

Blackburn can prevent aircraft from flying through an area where rounds or artillery could hit them.

All aspects of training interact with each other, preventing the hundreds of training events occurring at any given moment from affecting each other, said Wilsey.

Blackburn monitors scheduled events, such as annual weapons qualifications, as well as emergencies and unplanned activities, such as helping aircraft find available training areas or coordinating a medical evacuation.

“They have access to everybody on base,” said 1st Lt. Ezrael Atajar, an air command and control officer with Marine Air Support Squadron 1, Marine Air Control Group 28, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. They’re always manned, so there’s always somebody there if we need help,” said Atajar.

Wilsey credits fire desk operator’s success to an in-depth knowledge of weapons systems used by Marines, the bases facilities and ranges as well as quick thinking.

“It’s busy,” said Doug Clapp, a fire desk operator with range control. “You have to be aware of everything going on, and it gets intense at times.”

However, years of experience and a vast array of technology make the work manageable. Radars scan the air and sea, while cameras visually confirm ships or aircraft. All fire desk operators are former service members and retirees.

“We have the experience of guys who were in infantry, artillery and combat engineers,” said Clapp, who retired from the infantry and worked as a range inspector for seven years before becoming a fire desk operator five years ago. “We have a wealth of knowledge here.”

Range Control’s Blackburn keeps Camp Lejeune’s training facilities, live-fire ranges, airspace and coast safe.

“We’re watching and we react to whatever dangers could happen,” said Wilsey. “We’re the last line of defense before an event takes place.”


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