CAMP BUCCA, Iraq - "There it is," said Staff Sgt. Jeff Tomkiewicz, 887th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, as he pointed at a little, buzzing white dot in the sky. As the Raven B operator approached the small strip of sand of Camp Bucca's Burge Field, the tiny Raven B unmanned aerial system hovered above the ground for a moment then unceremoniously fell to the ground, waiting for Sergeant Tomkiewicz to retrieve it.
At four pounds and four-and-a-half feet across, the RQ-11B isn't as elegant as the sleek lines of the larger MQ-1 Predator, but it is rapidly becoming the new face of tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and is being used at Camp Bucca to provide overwatch for 887th ESFS patrols.
"The Raven B system is utilized to provide a persistent eyes-on, day or night, capability outside of the base perimeter," said 1st Lt. Maxwell Kimmel, 887th ESFS Small Unmanned Air Systems officer in charge. "It enables us to watch an area or route without having a footprint on the ground in that area."
"It helps squads outside the wire conduct patrols," Sergeant Tomkiewicz said. "We give eyes-on for them; see things they can't see like insurgents, improvised explosive devices and other dangers."
Operated by enlisted Airmen pulled from security forces fire teams, the Raven B provides versatile, tactical ISR directly to Airmen working on the ground.
"Using Security Forces Airmen to fly Raven B has proved to be very advantageous, as they are trained in protecting an area and watching for suspicious activity," Lieutenant Kimmel said. "At night, when you have zero visibility, and you are in a hostile area, increasing your situational awareness is vital to successful operations and the safety of your fire team."
Unlike larger UAS that require runways or launchers, the Raven B can be launched by hand, thrown like a football.
"It's a very flexible and responsive system," Lieutenant Kimmel said. "It can be launched and flown from a moving vehicle, a base or a static position. You can pack the entire system into a rucksack. It is the ideal squad-based ISR platform."
Airmen who fly and operate the Raven B are sent to a training course in Nevada before taking the helm of the system. Sergeant Tomkiewicz, deployed from Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., and a native of Falmouth, Mass., said the training seems hard at first, but he and his fellow Airmen soon got the hang of it.
"We learned to fly the aircraft, de-conflict the airspace, learned what things to look out for," he said. "At first it was a lot of information they throw at you, but once you get used to it, things run pretty well."
For Airman 1st Class Shane Corcoran, 887th ESFS Raven B operator, his first run-in with a Raven B was an eye-opening experience.
"We were out doing training at an Army base out there, and someone said, 'Hey, look at that UAV!'" the Swampscott, Mass., native said. "I started looking around for some kind of vehicle. I honestly had no clue what it was when I came into this program. This is definitely new, and I couldn't be happier with this job."
Airman Corcoran said the best part of what he does is that his job allows him to watch over his friends out on patrol with the 887th.
"It's good to know you're out there, able to help out the patrols and possibly saving lives," he said. "I'd say we deter a lot of things that could happen, so I think us being outside the wire out there is very positive."