For a man from the small town of Williford, Ark., being in control of one of the busiest airspaces in America is a far cry from the quiet wooded area from which he called home.
United States Air Force Staff Sergeant Steven Williams, a 2000 graduate of Williford High School, has a very important job. He works as an air traffic controller at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nev. The base is one of the busiest fighter bases in the nation.
From his glassed-in standpoint in the control tower, Williams is responsible for keeping track of numerous planes in the five mile radius of airspace surrounding the tower. Sometimes as many as 15-20 planes at any given time are in the space. Williams' job entails many specifics and knowledge of distance required to land the many types of aircraft that come into his landing area.
Many things must be taken into consideration upon landing and keeping each aircraft out of the way of others. He said his job is to, "separate, depart and land the aircraft safely." This includes a working knowledge of size, weights, speeds, models, ground conditions and many other things relevant to safely landing or allowing aircraft to take off from the base.
He said when he began training in the simulator it was like a video game and very much fun. When it comes to the real deal, millions of dollars worth of aircraft and the lives of the pilots, Williams said it is even more fun. It would appear that his job would bring about a large amount of stress and require the consumption of copious amounts of coffee, but Williams disagrees and says he used to, but has been staying away from caffeine. He says he refuses to take his work home with him, he simply leaves it at work.
Williams refers to the pieces that fit the puzzle in his mind of when to land certain aircraft, their speeds and other specifics as "The Picture." Much like a puzzle, each aspect must fit in place perfectly to prevent catastrophic disasters which could potentially cost millions if an aircraft were to crash or be damaged.
As an air traffic controller, Williams said that he meets pilots from many allied nations during war training exercises. These "red flag" and "green flag" exercises, Williams says are to allow the pilots to simulate a real working relationship with their allied neighbors and to train with them to prepare in the event of a real war.
Williams said he enjoys his job in Las Vegas, and although the people are not nearly as friendly as those from the Sharp County area, he has met people from many different cultures that he may not have been able to meet had it not been for his career in the Air Force. Williams was recently married to his wife, who is a native of Manizales, Columbia.
Williams, like his grandfather, father and brothers, chose to enter the military to serve his country.
His grandfather Joe Williams retired from the Air Force after 20 years of service. His father Russell and brothers Clint and Eric all served in the Marine Corps.
Williams' military service began the summer after his high school graduation in 2000. Williams said he entered the Air Force as an electrical and environmental systems specialist. After completing his basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, he later completed a six week training course at Kessler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss. He then continued with on the job training while working at Nellis as an air traffic controller, a job that he has held since 2006.
During his career in the Air Force, Williams has been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Quatar, as well as being, "lucky enough to visit 13 other countries," he said.
When asked what kind of advice he would give someone considering the Air Force as a career, Williams said, "Do your research so you know exactly what type of job you want before joining, that way you will be able to enjoy your time in the military." He said, "I have loved my life in the military and would not take it back. I think it is one of the best decisions of my life." He added, "I realized the Air Force was the best chance I would have to see the world and serve my country. I may have got a better paying job if I had went straight to college, but I would not have received as much life experience and excitement as the military has given me."
Williams returns home to the Williford area to visit his family once or twice a year. His parents are Russell and Margaret Williams of Williford.