Cowboys Go Where Eagles Dare

Master Sargent Gravatt looks across a nearly 14,000 foot long runway, it’s mid morning here at Transit Station Manas, Kyrgyzstan. Military and commercial airlines have been landing and taking off on the hour, throughout the morning. The operational tempo of the flight line that Gravatt along with fellow 376 EAW/SE team member Master Sargent Smith help oversee is a mix of military precision and five ring circus act. Military and commercial aircraft come and go in a choreographed production that requires constant hyper vigilance “ I can tell you that we’ve never had one of our Air Traffic Controllers fall asleep on the job.” says Gravatt, who comes to this mountainous region from Scott Air Base in Illinois. “We’ve got the warplanes and commercial airlines covered and coordinated, what we can’t control from the ‘Tower’ are the other birds that call this place home” referring to the population of resident and transient native crows and other species.

Stephen Farrell, a worker with Phoenix Bird Services based in the United Kingdom is a soft spoken predator bird expert charged with assisting the Transit Center with repelling the various species of feathered friends in a manner that is both effective and resilient. “ You can drive down our runway with a scatter gun, scaring the birds away every hour, but they’ll be right back” says Smith, assigned here from Eglin Air Base in Florida. “ To keep the birds away, we use predator birds, which we’ve found to be the absolute most effective. Mr Farrell’s “Jet” a magnificent young hawk receives clearance to take off on soaring missions from the very Air Traffic Control Tower that releases thousands of jet fueled birds into the air every year.

In the high stakes high tech world of counter terrorism fighting the sight of ‘Jet’ soaring around MTS conjures up thoughts of Castles and Falconers performing for kings. “Stephen had Jet swoop down and land right on my hand, now that’s cool, I’ve never been that close to a Hawk before.” said Kaycee Feild, a top ranked pro rodeo cowboy who is visiting Manas TS as part of the DoD Armed Forces Entertainment Wrangler National Patriot Tour. “ We’ve been flying around this region thanking troops for all they do to protect our freedoms and make America the greatest country in the World, pretty darn cool to be able to add ‘Jet’ to the long list of behind the scenes service members, who protect, fight and serve our nation.”

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