The Stalkers of D Company, 326th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), recently conducted and unmanned aerial surveillance gunnery with their RQ-7B Shadow at Range 71 perfecting brigade intelligence operations.
The gunnery exercise was a two-week training for all UAS operators enabling aerial reconnaissance and intelligence surveillance across the battlefield for future operations.
More than 10 Soldiers executed Gunnery Table VI in their shelter, a universal ground control station, where they control the aircraft in an arcade-like arena fit with joy sticks and large screens depicting the flight of the Shadow.
This setting is far from a video game. These intelligence professionals conduct flight operations providing timely and accurate reconnaissance from the sky, helping the commander and the brigade develop a common operational picture of the battlefield to make key tactical decisions.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Sam Mckamey, UAS technician assigned to D Co., 326th BEB, led the training exercise for his Soldiers.
“We’ve actually posted 50 hours of flight,” Mckamey said. “Everyone is doing a great job. It’s been very productive. We’re conducting 24-hour operations and flying day and night to qualify our Soldiers. We’ve had the opportunity to add further realistic measures in the training as we’ve even joined the Rak [Rakkassans] during their tactical lanes injecting into their scenario giving them targets. They’re performing quite well during the scenarios.”
Range 71 appeared to be one of the quietest airfields with not a lot of traffic, but that perception will fool most and is the idea. The stealthy and hidden Soldiers were extremely active tucked away in their shelters constantly flying missions and learning during the exercise in their tactical shelters.
Private First Class Nicholas Knight, UAS operator assigned to D. Co., 326th BEB, was one of the Soldiers glued to his seat with his hands steady on the controls of the UAS and his eyes laser focused on the screen identifying targets in the training area.
“This is my first flight on this airfield,” Knight said. “It’s a little different from the schoolhouse, but it’s a lot more practical. At the schoolhouse we were more focused on memorization, but here I see and understand what all this training truly means. Personally, I thank Staff Sgt. [Luna] Luis Victor. He has taught me a lot of troubleshooting techniques and how to operate within the shelter.”
Luis Victor, UAS operator assigned to D. Co., 326 BEB, was one of the Soldiers paired with a UAS operator to assist during flight, train and grade them during the gunnery exercise.
“This is where my passion is,” Luis Victor said. “The students we’re training are doing extremely well out here, especially coming straight out of the schoolhouse with a lot they didn’t really know. Teaching them the job itself, maintaining records and how to truly perform in the shelter has been significantly better.”
Yet, the UAS operators and trainers are not fully responsible for providing UAS training and operations that give a great portion of the intelligence preparation of the battlefield. The Shadow has to first get off the ground and take flight. The crew chief and the UAS maintainers may have the most significant role in this operation, as they are responsible for the maintenance and safety of all four Shadows in the platoon.
Staff Sergeant Hector Perezaloy, crew chief assigned to D. Co., 326th BEB, takes great pride in ensuring every aircraft is in perfect condition and ready to fly.
“I make sure there are absolutely no issues with the UAS,” Perezaloy said. “We make sure the oil, maintenance, launcher and aircraft are 100% ready to go so it does not jeopardize the mission.”
Along the runway you can find Perezaloy near the launcher and the Shadows constantly circling and going through pre-flight checks to ensure a perfect flight.
“We maintain all four Shadows and take a lot of pride ensuring each one is ready for the brigade,” he said.
With attention to detail on both the maintenance and operations portions of UAS gunnery, these crews will be ready to enable the brigade to make sound decisions on the battlefield when our nation calls.