DIYALA PROVINCE, IRAQ
DIYALA, Iraq — In modern warfare, seeing the battlefield before sending in Soldiers can be very beneficial. Enlisted Soldiers work hard every day to act as "the eye in the sky" for the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division stationed at Forward Operating Base Warhorse.
These Soldiers work for the brigade's Unmanned Ariel System or UAS. They control unmanned aircraft with advanced camera systems to survey and search for insurgents, caches and anything else that could help their brethren in the field.
"They may not know who I am, but they always know there is someone watching their back when they leave the FOB," said Staff Sgt. Edward Powell who is a mission planner and UAS operator.
The Arrowhead brigade's UAV's are called the Shadow and can fly up to 15,000 feet and still be able to view small objects on the ground. The aerial vehicles are sent out to soar over areas of interest and while it's flying, provide real-time video feed to the Soldiers.
Sgt. Scott Moore, from Springfield, Mo., is a UAS operator and knows the importance of his job to the overall mission for his brigade. Certain situations are possible where Moore can save lives. One situation that is not too far from reality is finding insurgents and forewarning Soldiers.
"We get on the horn and are like, 'hey man! Don't go into that building'," Moore said. "There were two guys that just walked in with RPG's. As long as I can do my part and get them the word, I'm happy."
There is more to just pushing buttons for the UAS operator. While the Air Vehicle Operator (AVO) can type in grid coordinates and the computer system will fly the aircraft automatically, "you [AVO] have to be the one watching the indicators and making sure nothing is going awry," said Moore. "It's not just point and click and it goes where you tell it to, there are also things to do while you're en route to your target."
A UAS operator must take six to seven months of training before they can fly the unmanned aircraft. Their training includes Federal Aviation Administration rules, identifying targets, packing and unloading the system and actual flying of the aircraft. Like all pilots would train, the UAS training included flight simulators of the worst emergency situations possible.
The UAS operators aren't the only ones involved. Sgt. Jonathon Somers is a Shadow Maintainer. He is responsible for getting the aircraft on the launch pad and ready to fly. He performs all maintenances and daily checks on the system.
Another important part of his job is making sure the aircraft lands safely. After the unmanned vehicle touches down on the runway, it runs into a system of cables that slows it down. If the aircraft misses the cable, it will run into a backup net. That could cause damage to the aircraft according to Somers.
"Basically all it does is knock off some antennas," said Somers. "Usually it only takes about two or three hours to repair the aircraft to make it flyable again."
Luckily for Somers, he hasn't had a UAV miss the first set of cables yet.
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This work, Arrowhead Brigade has their 'Eye in the Sky', by SSG Christopher Bruce, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.