PATUXENT RIVER NAVAL AIR STATION, MD – In a groundbreaking achievement, the Air Traffic Control Facility (ATCF) at NAS Patuxent River has marked a historic milestone as it became fully staffed by women for the first time in its 80-year history. These trailblazing Air Traffic Controllers (ACs) manned nine watch stations across the NAS Pax River Air Traffic Control Tower, Radar Operations, and Flight Planning departments.

NAS Patuxent River, classified as a Class IV Facility, is renowned as one of the most intricate ATCFs in the Navy’s AC community. With the NAS Pax River control tower overseeing over 40,000 flight operations annually and its RADAR operations commanding more than 6,000 square miles of airspace, including the Special Use Airspace complex and providing approach control service to 14 additional airports, this milestone showcases the expertise and dedication of the all-women AC team.

The arduous process of becoming fully qualified at PAX was likened to earning a Ph.D. in Air Traffic Control by ACC Kristen Costlow, NAS Patuxent River Air Traffic Control Training Chief. She emphasized the rigorous training pipeline of 14 air traffic control qualifications that candidates must undergo to achieve a full qualification at PAX. On average, it takes three years to attain the designation of a Facility Watch Supervisor, the highest qualification obtainable after completing the prior 13 qualifications.

While NAS Patuxent River previously celebrated a similar milestone in 2018 with an all-women Air Traffic Control qualified tower crew, this occasion marks the first time in the station’s history that women Sailors exclusively staffed all positions on the air traffic control watch.

ACC Kristen Costlow reflected on the significance of this achievement, stating, “Now, in 2023, we can run the entire facility by ourselves, 100% female. A class IV facility. The most complex facility and aggressive air traffic control training pipeline in the Navy. This goes beyond us being proud of ourselves for standing out in a male-dominant rating. This sets the example for their daughters, sisters, and future women that aspire to join the Navy.”

While diligently fulfilling their demanding duties in Air Traffic Control, the Pax River ACs took a moment to acknowledge the gravity of the occasion. In the Pax River Air Traffic Control Tower, Tower Supervisor and Local Controller AC1 Amanda Galentine, Ground Controller AC1 Talyssa Martin, and Flight Data Operator AC2 Brianna Boore expressed their sentiments between flights. Galentine remarked, “It’s pretty cool; you don’t see this very often at many facilities.”

Autumn Rauen, Flight Planning Supervisor/Dispatch – AC2, shared her thoughts on this milestone’s impact on future ACs. She stated, “I think this will be particularly impactful on new airmen coming in, both men and women, seeing that women are capable of doing these kinds of jobs and not just relegated to the background.”

In the RADAR room, ACC Kristen Costlow and her crew of Approach Controller AC1 Kristy Lescrynski, Sector Controller AC1 Erica Headrick, Clearance Delivery AC2 Syrenia Cuevas, and Final Controller AC2 Tieraney Edmond diligently tracked aircraft. Costlow praised the women for their professional development and dedication to the team, stating, “You’re looking at some trailblazers in the Air Traffic Control community.”

To commemorate this momentous occasion, Capt. Derrick Kingsley, NAS Patuxent River commanding officer, visited the remaining ACs on watch. He presented command coins to the all-women crew and offered words of encouragement, expressing his pride in witnessing such a historic milestone. Capt. Kingsley, who has served in the Navy for 26 years, highlighted the significance of this achievement, stating, “When I first joined the Navy, women were just beginning to fill roles in combatant commands, and now you all have played a part in the Navy’s history too. I’m damn proud to be your skipper.”

Achieving an all-women-staffed ATCF at NAS Patuxent River sends a powerful message about gender equality and opportunities within the Navy. It inspires women in the AC community and beyond, proving that they can excel in demanding and complex roles traditionally dominated by men.

This milestone also demonstrates the Navy’s commitment to promoting diversity and inclusivity. By showcasing the capabilities and professionalism of the all-women AC team, it challenges outdated stereotypes and encourages a more diverse range of talent to pursue careers in the Navy.

The achievement at NAS Patuxent River has far-reaching implications for the future of the Air Traffic Control community. It provides a strong foundation for the advancement of women in this field and encourages aspiring female ACs to pursue their dreams without limitations.

The success of the all-women AC team is a testament to their hard work, dedication, and the support they receive from their mentors and leaders. The women who paved the way for this milestone, such as Master Chief Senior Chief, have played a crucial role in shaping the careers of the ACs who are now making history themselves.

As the news of this achievement spreads, it is expected to positively impact the recruitment and retention of women in the Navy. The visibility of women in leadership positions within the AC community will inspire young women considering a career in the military and assure them that they can achieve greatness in any role they choose.

The NAS Patuxent River Air Traffic Control Facility’s accomplishment is a shining example for other military installations and organizations striving for greater diversity and inclusion. By embracing the talent and potential of women, they can unlock new perspectives, skills, and abilities that contribute to the mission’s overall success.

The historic milestone achieved by NAS Patuxent River on May 30, 2023, will be remembered as a significant moment in the Navy’s history. It stands as a symbol of progress and a testament to the unwavering dedication of the women who serve in the Air Traffic Control community. As the Navy continues to evolve and adapt, milestones like this will pave the way for a more diverse and inclusive future, empowering women to excel in all areas of military service.

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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