Texas soldiers operate latest unmanned aerial vehicle

Spc. Matthew Williamson and Pfc. Ector Munoz

FORT HOOD, Texas — In an adaptable, ever-changing Army, equipment upgrades are to be expected. With those upgrades comes the need to keep soldiers trained on the latest and greatest pieces of equipment.

Soldiers of Company A “Assassins,” 1st “Centurion” Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st “Ironhorse” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division learned the ups and downs of a new unmanned aerial vehicle here from Aug. 21 to 28.

After three days of classroom instruction, unmanned aircraft systems repairers and UAV operators headed to the field to conduct training on an upgraded model of the RQ-7B Shadow UAV, featuring a fuel-injected engine and longer wings than previous models.

These aircraft are used instead of soldiers in certain circumstances for a few reasons.

UAVs take the place of soldiers during lengthy surveillance missions and in areas hazardous to manned aircraft and ground troops, explained Staff Sgt. Morgan Caffarello, a Las Vegas native and UAS repairer for the Assassins.

“The benefit of having [an] unmanned aircraft [is] it takes the danger away from the pilot,”explained Spc. Alexander Gonzalez, Rosemount, Minn., native, and an Assassin UAV operator.

It is not ideal for a UAV to go down, but a piece of equipment can be replaced while a person cannot, Gonzalez added.

Gonzalez said UAVs track enemy forces, provide security, and identify targets while conducting surveillance.

Upgrades for UAVs are continuous, requiring operators and maintainers to train and fly regularly, preserving their proficiency on the systems, Caffarello explained.

The extended wings give the aircraft longer endurance, allowing the Shadow to fly up to nine hours, explained Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Callahan, Ventura, Calif., native and a UAS repairer for the Assassins. The previous model could only spend up to six hours in the air.

Another feature, the fuel-injected engine, eliminates issues like ice in the engine at high altitudes, posing problems when using a carburetor, Callahan continued.

Assassin UAV operators and maintainers spend two weeks of every month in the field allowing them to develop muscle memory of the skills they use, Callahan added. Continued training allows soldiers to operate faster becoming more proficient each time they fly.

“Everything is easy, and everything is difficult,”Gonzalez said about learning the new system. “It just depends on how much focus and how much time you actually put into it.”

Caffarello said his favorite part of the training is how the new system puts soldiers on an equal playing field. Because the system is new, soldiers from private to staff sergeant share an identical knowledge base, Caffarello added.

“I don’t know anything more about the system than [my private first class],”Caffarello concluded. “I like that it takes a lot of the rank out of it and [focuses] more on just [doing] our job.”

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