News: Task Force Heron celebrates major milestone in RC-South
Story by Staff Sgt. John Etheridge
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – After five years of flying over the provinces in Regional Command-South, service members with Task Force Heron, an Australian Defense Force contingent, were honored in a ceremony at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Aug. 14, 2014, for reaching the milestone of 25,000 flight hours with their unmanned aerial vehicles in support of the International Security Assistance Force.
During the ceremony, Maj. Gen. Michael Bills, RC-South and Combined Joint Task Force-1 commander, presented a certificate of achievement to the TF Heron commander, Wing Commander Phil Parsons.
“This is essential, and I say again essential, to provide commanders with ongoing and actionable intelligence,” said Bills about TF Heron’s UAV capabilities.
Bills also added that the certificate is not about the aircraft but about the mechanics, pilots and support personnel that enable Heron to perform its mission.
In his speech, Parsons said that Heron started their mission in Afghanistan in 2009 initially supporting Australian forces in Uruzgan province. Over the years it has grown into a mature intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform providing information to the whole of RC-South, he said.
Putting the accomplishment of 25,000 flight hours into understandable terms, Parsons said “it equates to having an aircraft airborne continuously for 1041 days, and we’ve done it with only three aircraft,” he said. Parsons was quick to give credit to the civilian contractor maintenance technicians that keep their UAVs at a high serviceability rate.
U.S. Army Maj. Stephen Burrows, the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance collection manager for RC-South, who works regularly with TF Heron, was also at the ceremony to watch his colleagues be recognized.
“This is a monumental occasion,” said Burrows. “This platform provides a critical role in our ISR collection.”
Burrows added that the award represents almost four years of constant data collection with the UAV platform and that Heron has become the eyes of RC-South on the battlefield. He also said that his Australian counterparts were very easy to work with and always willing to put an aircraft up if needed.
“They never say no,” he said. “They are willing to fly and collect whenever other assets can’t due to weather limitations or range.”
He continued that the Australians are very dynamic in their support and are easily able to shift their mission focus if needed. Also, TF Heron is helping RC-South assist their Afghan partners.
“It’s helping us do our train, advise and assist mission with the Afghan National Security Forces and it’s able to provide them with real-time intelligence,” Burrows said about TF Heron.