By Senior Airman Amber R. Kelly-Herard
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
SALAH AD DIN, Iraq - It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s an aerostat? History was made June 3 as an aerostat, an Army asset, was launched for the first time by airmen who were from the 332nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron.
This is also the first aerostat to be launched at Joint Base Balad.
An aerostat is an airship, similar to a blimp, equipped with a camera that will provide an additional surveillance tool for the 332nd ESFS. The camera is used to detect cruise missiles and be able to see enemies trying to plant bombs at the base’s perimeter.
“The aerostat helps the squadron patrol the area for suspicious activity to eliminate indirect fire,” said Senior Master Sgt. Darrin Hooten, 332nd Security Forces Group Operations superintendent, who is deployed here from Royal Air Force Alconbury, England.
“At 800 feet in the air, the aerostat will provide a constant stare in high-threat areas to help detect and deter the enemy,” continued the Torrance, Calif., native.
The aerostat is tethered to a base and floats because of helium. It is made of hard canvas which makes it durable, waterproof and weather resistant.
It also only takes six to eight people to operate.
“Two teams of eight airmen went through three weeks of training and they will receive two more weeks of over-the-shoulder training,” said Michael Lewis, CACI constructor from Phenix City, Ala.
There are currently more than a dozen aerostats being used within the area of responsibility.
“I am proud to be a part of something historical that is also providing security for the base,” said Airman 1st Class Ashley Thomas, 332nd ESFS center line operator, deployed here from Beale Air Force Base, Calif., and originally from Chatsworth, Calif.
The use of balloons in the military is not a new concept. Balloons were first used in one of the first example of air power the military during the Civil War in 1861 by Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, to telegraph enemy positions.