FORT STEWART, Ga. – Gray Eagle Soldiers from Company E, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, participated in an air assault mission which culminated a validation exercise designed to measure their readiness to deploy March 27 at Fort Stewart.
With experienced leadership from the 21st Air Cavalry Brigade out of Fort Hood, Texas, the newly established company was evaluated to determine if they are ready to deploy by completing several tasks specific to the unmanned aerial system mission.
Leading the assessment team was Maj. Glenn Anderson, 21st Air Cavalry Brigade, Fort Hood, Texas. Anderson was the commander of the very first MQ-1C Gray Eagle unit that stood up, Company F, 227th CAB, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.
Anderson, along with 15 Soldiers from 21st ACB and six civilian contractors, brought their experience of three years in dealing with the MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAS.
“We are evaluating the Soldiers of Company E, 3rd CAB, to see if they are ready for deployment,” said Anderson. “When we’re through they will be certified ready for deployment. It’s very similar to the National Training Center (NTC) or the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) as far as the training and certification process goes.”
To validate, the Soldiers provided aerial convoy security with the MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAS for a convoy of vehicles. During the exercise, a Soldier was taken hostage and the MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAS had to keep positive identification on an opposing forces vehicle. The unit also employed a quick reaction force to recover the hostage.
Under the supervision of Capt. John Sproul, 21st ACB, the QRF boarded two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters with several junior enlisted Soldiers. Some of the Soldiers had deployed before, and their experience put them into leadership roles. However, for many of them this was their first experience on a helicopter, and for some this was their first exercise that accurately depicted a deployed QRF mission.
“With this being a cutting edge system, a lot of the doctrine is being built here, right now,” said Sproul. “We have a lot of young troops who have never deployed before. I love training America’s best and brightest, and their attitude has been very positive throughout this evaluation.”
Sproul is a field artilleryman by trade, but when he deployed to Afghanistan his mission did not require that particular skill set. However, his experience helped to emphasize the need for all Gray Eagle Soldiers to be a rifleman first.
“If some of my experience can benefit these guys and hopefully get them better prepared, all the better for them,” continued Sproul. “It’s good to get some of the older, more experienced guys to share their experience from a ground perspective.”
Army Pfc. Bryan Thomas, Company E, 3rd CAB, has been a Soldier nearly 18 months. While training for future contingency operations, he got his first ride on a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
“It felt like I was in a combat zone. The mission was as close as you could get to the real thing without live rounds being fired at you,” said Thomas. “It helped me to get back to the things I was taught in basic training. I was told by my drill instructors this could happen, and now I feel a little more ready.”
At the end of the exercise, the inspectors conducted an after action review, which was then followed by the Company E, 3rd CAB commander, Capt. Jonathan A. Coe, and 1st Sgt. Eric Smith receiving the coveted combat readiness certificate for their unit.
“This certificate represents the journey we’ve made from day one,” said Coe. “It has been a real challenge standing up this unit. Training them, equipping them, and preparing them for this deployment has been the most challenging thing I have done in my career in the military.”