Story and photo by Spc. Andrew Ingram
1st Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office, 4th Infantry Division
CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait — Taking off is a choice, landing never is.
This is the message Chief Warrant Officer 2 Dustin Hisel, Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Operations officer, Company A, 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, drills into his unmanned aerial vehicle operators and maintainers daily.
Newly arrived at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, the Unmanned Aircraft Service Platoon flies and maintains the brigade’s RQ-7B Shadow 200s.
“With any aviation operations, attention to detail is crucial,” Hisel said. “If you miss one step in a checklist you’re looking at a potential loss of a ‘bird,’ and possibly a loss of life.”
At Camp Buehring, the UAS Soldiers can fly and maintain the Shadows constantly, honing their skills in preparation for any mission the brigade requires of them, said Hisel.
“I’m a firm believer that flights in support of real-time combat missions are the best training for a UAV team,” he said. “The downside is that an inexperienced crew can make a mistake and fail to get Soldiers on the ground the information they need. This deployment is a great opportunity for some of my less-experienced Soldiers to get that experience without the stakes being so high, because we are here on a partnership mission versus a combat operation.”
UAS Soldiers deploy Shadows to facilitate numerous roles during operations, from long-range reconnaissance to targeting enemy forces for air or artillery strikes.
Pfc. Alfred Townsend, UAV maintainer, Company A, said he relishes the chance to work with the Shadow and improve his expertise on a daily basis.
“Coming out here six days a week, touching a ‘bird’ every day, gives us an amount of experience we can’t match at Fort Carson,” Townsend said. “We encounter new problems every day, and we find new ways to solve them. We can’t gain that experience from reading a book or a manual; experience has to be gained by doing.”
The UAS Platoon’s current training regimen consists of preparing the Shadow for flight, launching it, maintaining a flight pattern and landing safely.
Hisel said the training program will expand into more complex operations as his Soldiers continue to sharpen their skills.
“Back at Fort Carson, we would spend two weeks to a month in the field training, and we may spend half that time getting into a good rhythm,” said Spc. John Szymanski, UAV operator, Company A. “Here at Camp Buehring, we spent the past couple weeks working out all the bugs and learning local flight procedures. That means we can spend the rest of our time here flying, training and preparing for whatever mission our command passes down to us.”
While flight preparation time varies depending on a flight crew’s experience, Szymanski said a well-trained team can prepare one Shadow while another flies to facilitate continuous UAV operations.
“Not all of us are at that level yet, but we have some very experienced veterans in this platoon who are squaring us away,” he said.
Hisel said he looks forward to enhancing his Soldiers’ knowledge, skills and proficiency during the platoon’s time at Camp Buehring.
“I expect excellence out of these Soldiers every minute of every day, and I don’t think I could have asked for a better group of people,” Hisel said. “Some of these guys are pretty junior, but we have enough experience to train this platoon to an extremely high standard … I think we have the potential to be the best UAS platoon in the Army.”
The UAS Soldiers of Company A will continue training with the Shadow and perfecting their skills throughout the brigade’s deployment.