News: Eyes in the sky
By Pfc. Alisha Nye
14th Public Affairs Detachment
One of the most important assets to military aviation in a deployed environment is the one that leaves its crew on the ground.
The Shadow-200, also called the RQ7, is an unmanned aerial vehicle that allows the United States military to have aerial surveillance of occurrences on the ground.
"It's got an on-board camera that can look down and kind of depict what I going on, on the ground and tips us off to possible enemy activities or do some over-watch if we have some troops on the ground doing something," said Capt. Phillip Mann, commander of Troop D, 5th Battalion, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, which falls under the SBCT's Brigade Troops Battalion.
The UAV is operated by a team of two who work out of a shelter in the back of a high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle.
"One of them actually flies the aircraft through a series of different radio frequencies and then we've got the mission payload officer, which is another Soldier who mans the camera," Mann said.
Mann also said these UAVs are an extremely important asset to successfully completing missions in a combat zone.
"They're a great tool," he said. "They provide a commander, at any level, instant eyes on the target or instant eyes on the ground. So, he's got good situational awareness of what's going on before he has to send his troops in and it also helps to protect to forces while the troops are there on the ground."
It is no small task to keep these vehicles operating smoothly and efficiently on a daily basis, said Mann.
"It takes a platoon of 22 people," he said. "Which includes the platoon leader, a warrant officer who is a UAV specialist, the platoon sergeant who is also an air vehicle operator, seven maintainers who have to go to a special UAV maintainer's school, and an additional 12 air vehicle operators who work on an aviation cycle where they have 12-14 hour work days and then 10-12 hours of rest afterward."
While most of these Soldiers may never go outside the wire while deployed, the responsibility that falls on their shoulders is as great as that of any line Soldier.
"One of the things that I tell the platoon all the time is that they are in the unique position of saving Soldiers' lives every day," Mann said. "They're not the ones who go out there and get bad guys; they're the ones who make sure bad guys don't get us. They let the commanders and the troops on the ground know what's going on around them that they can't see."
This unique job is one that requires a lot of attention, Mann said.
"The air vehicle operators have to be pretty patient," he said. "The uniqueness of Army UAVs is that we have enlisted Soldiers who fly these things. Unlike manned aviation where we have warrant officers and officers who do it, we have 19, 20 year-old kids, sometimes, flying these."
The most important thing that these Soldiers perform are pre-flight, in-flight and launch checklists which ensure that the whole operation goes smoothly, Mann said. The Soldiers operating the UAVs may be young, but once they have mastered going through these checklists and performing a mission smoothly, they have also proven that they are capable, Mann said.
The capability and unwavering patience of these UAV Soldiers to perform a job that requires the utmost attention to detail may be attributed to their fondness for what it is they do, Mann said.
"For me, this is probably the best military intelligence job I'll ever have," he said. "The aviators just love flying. The maintainers, they don't care if they're working 18 hour days, just as long as they get to put that airplane up and it gets to come right back down safely. They've all wanted to do this for 18 months now and now they finally get to do it."
Date Posted:11.08.2008 09:59
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