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Face of Defense: Marine Excels as Air Traffic Controller

By Marine Corps Cpl. Joshua Brown 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

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ABOARD THE USS KEARSARGE, Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 23, 2015 — The Marine Corps League presents the Sgt. Maj. Frederick B. Douglass award annually to a Marine who demonstrates superior qualities and actions during the performance of his or her duties in the aviation community. An individual needs to receive recommendation from his leadership and approval from a commanding officer for eligibility.

Sgt. Jan Kamphuis, an air traffic controller assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, is the most recent recipient of the prestigious award.

Kamphuis, a Warrenton, Virginia, native, said his Marine Corps career began shortly after he graduated from Roanoke University with a bachelor’s degree in history and felt called to serve.

“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.”

Starting a Challenging Career

He said his family reacted positively to his decision, even though 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.

Kamphuis enlisted as an air traffic controller -- an occupation that includes a range of responsibilities involving the deployment, recovery and tracking of aircraft in various locations.

“He’s a local controller,” said Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Timothy J. Layton, a fellow 26th MEU air traffic controller and a Spring Hill, Florida, native. “He is qualified to communicate with aircraft in the local area and get them to the ground.”

Kamphuis said he primarily performs his duties in an expeditionary 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 those locations.

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

Focused, Confident Teacher

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

“He’s always professional and knows how to stay focused on the situation,” Layton said. “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.”

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

Layton said one big factor in Kamphuis' nomination and eventual selection for the award was how he took the lead in training the sailors on the ship. “When we disembark from a ship, we all work together as an integrated team to set up an airfield," he said. "And Kamphuis has taken huge steps in preparing them to work with us and perform while we're forward-positioned."

Kamphuis has also taught and assisted others with various air traffic control certifications. During the weapons and tactics instructors’ course -- a large-scale training event conducted in Yuma, Arizona -- he acted as a Marine Corps Air Traffic Control Team augmentee.

Seeking Leadership Opportunities

He said his professional successes have influenced his plans for the future -- he wants 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.”

Those goals seem to align with the career trajectory his leaders and peers predict he’ll achieve.

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

Kamphuis said he still has his mind set on his current mission while deployed with the 26th MEU. “I want to do the best I can in my job, and I want to be the best Marine I can every single day,” he said.