The Hills Have Eyes….

March 29, 2007

When seeing the title of this post, I’m sure most of us are reminded of the 1977 film and the 2006 Horror/Thriller version of the film by that same name. I’m sure some of you are asking what that might have to do with the military. How this film relates to our troops serving in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. The answer is that for the most part it doesn’t, though the insurgency in both countries may feel that it has a whole lot to do with what’s happening.

In the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, our troops are faced with many challenges and any “edge” they can get, that will aid them in defeating the enemy is an edge that can save lives. The terrain in both countries is not only unfamiliar to our troops, but provides challenges that make completing their mission, quite difficult. Not only are our troops faced with lots of sand in Iraq, but drifts of sand, hills, gullies, groves of trees, urban areas where there are many buildings and garbage-lined streets. In Afghanistan, our troops deal with the mountainous regions of that country and the thousands of places that an insurgent can hide to ambush our troops. So how do our troops overcome those obstacles? In the past, they may have sent a team of scouts into the area first to look for the enemy’s hiding places. This practice however, can cost the lives of American soldiers.

There’s a new weapon in the arsenal of the US Military Forces, one that might make it appear to the insurgency, that the hills do indeed “have eyes.” This new weapon, enables commanders and troops on the ground to know what’s ahead of them in the battlefield, hidden in areas, that they might not be able to see with the naked eye, allowing our soldiers to be prepared for the enemy who might be hiding on the other side of a hill, or behind a building, ready to ambush them. This weapon is one that not only provides eyes in the hills, but provides valuable support to our troops in the battlefield. What exactly is this weapon that is instrumental in saving the lives of soldiers….? They are the Unmanned Aerial Systems or UAS, formerly known as UAV’s.

Company A, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, operating at FOB Warhorse in Iraq, is the team that maintains and operates the UAS or “birds” as they call them. The birds job is to scope out the area surrounding FOB Warhorse for surveillance purposes. The birds are a new tool in the US Armed Forces which has been saving lives of the troops in the battlefield.

“This job is important because (the troops) might not be able to see what’s beyond a hill or what’s happening ahead of them,” said Spc. Renay Forney. “So we give the Soldiers an idea of what’s going on around them so they can get a better feeling of their surroundings and feel more comfortable (on the battlefield).”

Forney is one of the operators of the UAS, controlling the launch and monitoring the progress of the flight until it reaches a particular altitude. Once it reaches a certain point in it’s flight, Forney will hand over control to the ground-control station, which will monitor the flight, control the on-board camera and provide further information to the Soldier in the field.

“We do surveillance, reconnaissance and support missions to help the troops on the ground,” Forney said. “A lot of our time is consumed by looking for insurgents.”

Tools like the UAS are valuable to the troops in the field, as they can be made aware of an ambush up ahead of their position, or can be made aware of the location of an insurgent planting an IED, so that EOD soldiers can recover the explosive and safely detonate it, thus saving the lives of soldiers later on, in an unsuspecting convoy. While fairly new to the Armed Forces, the UAS is already proving to be a valuable asset, providing those in the field a valuable edge over the insurgency and thus saving lives of troops. There are several versions of UAS which are being used by various branches of the military.

The Unmanned Aerial Systems team of Company A, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry division, have many members who ensure the systems are up and running to benefit the troops, from operators to mechanics, they all work as a team and take their jobs seriously; because their job can save the lives of their fellow soldiers. Prior to the launch of the bird, soldiers thoroughly inspect the launching system and the bird, to ensure all of the pre-flight checks are complete and the bird is safe to be launched. Mechanics ensure that all systems remain in working order. Once a bird completes it’s mission, the routine checks and inspections start all over again. Spc. Sean Sowles is one of the mechanics, who works to ensure that each launch into the sky is a successful one..

“We also assist units by having a bird in the air and giving them a tail number,” said Spc. Sowles. “When they plug the number into their systems, they can see what we’re seeing and that really helps them out. They can’t control the birds but they can request us to go to an area that might help their unit with their current mission. I love this job,” he said. “There’s just so many capabilities this bird can do. It’s amazing to work with and it’s very exciting. You get used to the system and you learn new things every day.”

Both Sowels and Forney feel that while the system is new to the armed forces that it will prove to be a valuable tool for the military that will become a major asset to troops in future deployments.

The Daily Charge page 4.


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