March 24, 2011

Unmanned aerial system platoon from Virginia trains in Mississippi

By Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

CAMP SHELBY, Miss. — From the relative safety of the Ground Control Stations, Soldiers from the Virginia Army National Guard's Bowling Green-based Detachment 1, Company B, 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion completed several weeks of new equipment training on the Shadow Unmanned Aerial System March 25 in preparation for federal active duty scheduled to begin in early June. The unit first arrived at Camp Shelby, Miss., Jan. 9 to receive the RQ-7B Shadow aircraft and spent weeks conducting both classroom training and actual flight operations.


Sgt. Anne Korsness of Detachment 1, Company B, 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 116th Brigade Combat Team, rolls out a RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aircraft system for flight at Camp Shelby, Miss., March 14. Korsness recently transferred from the 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment to be able to deploy with the UAS Platoon. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs) 

Click HERE to see more photos from the event on the Virginia National Guard Flickr site.

The Virginia Guard Soldiers who affectionately call themselves “Valkyries,” a mythological Norse angel of death, spent their first five weeks at Camp Shelby in classrooms learning UAS initiatives and theory before moving to the field to begin training on flying the aircraft. The Soldiers work side-by-side in the classrooms and in the field with employees from AAI, the company that supplies the aircraft and the training.

“We are fielding our shadow and all of its systems to get more proficient…and getting used to our system, learning what the system takes to keep it running and learning how to keep the mission going and all the stuff that goes with that,” said Sgt. Anne Korsness, acting platoon sergeant for the detachment.

In mid February the Soldiers began the hands-on training and began flying the aircraft which provides real-time images from the plane’s on-board camera systems to the GCS which can then be forwarded to troops on the ground in an area of operations. After being grounded on their first attempt at flight due to smoke from controlled burning, the unit successfully launched their first aircraft Feb. 17. Once in the air, the planes serve a number of combat roles vital to the success of the ground troops.

“They (the aircraft) do a number of things,” said Chief Warrant Officer Christopher Carter, detachment commander.  “We provide over head surveillance for everything from convoy over-watch to high value target recognition. When people are moving around, we know exactly where they are going.

“They are also a deterrent with the noise they put out when we fly them at lower levels. People tend not to do things they aren’t supposed to when they know they are being watch,” Carter added. “Anything that takes our troops out of harm’s way is a plus; we are really a force multiplier. We are the eyes in the sky for the commanders on the ground.”


Soldiers of Detachment 1, Company B, 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 116th Brigade Combat Team conduct pre-flight inspections on RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aircraft systems at Camp Shelby, Miss., March 14. The Soldiers have been training on the UAS in Mississippi since early January and initially fielded the system in early February. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Click HERE to see more photos from the event on the Virginia National Guard Flickr site.

“We fly over areas of known interest and we keep an eye out for enemy activity, or any natural activity that may get in the way of our troops conducting their missions,” said Spc. Joseph Brayton, a crew chief with the unit. “With the new communication relay packages on the system, we can actually talk to the troops on the ground while they’re approaching the area and give them real-time information.”

Throughout the training the Soldiers have been building strong relationships with each other and have been coming together as a cohesive unit. They are exceeding expectations and expect to be fully certified before moving to Camp Atterbury, Ind., in April for post-mobilization training where they will spend 60-90 days continuing their training.

“They’ve been enjoying the flying for sure; we’ve had some weather days that have made it a little tricky, but all in all they’ve been doing great,” said Carter. “They’ve been getting kudos from the AAI guys and the project manager. They’ve got great esprit de corps.”

“Right now they’re (AAI) saying we're the best state that has fielded the equipment and I don’t think they are blowing smoke because we’ve had three different project managers come on site and they all say the same thing.”

The days are long for the Soldiers working on the flight line, but they all agree the twelve hour duty days are worth it and the training is paying off.  The Soldiers arrive on the flight line most days at around nine in the morning and stay there until well after nine at night working on the planes.

"We get up in the morning, we send everyone out to get breakfast and lunch so we don’t have to leave when we get here, and then as soon as we get here to pull the planes out, we conduct preventative maintenance on all of the vehicles that we’re going to fly out and all of the systems, the trackers and all that, then we get started with mission briefs and then we get on the launcher and start flying them,” said Korsness. “Then when we’re done, we put everything to bed, and then head back to do physical training and all that other good stuff.”

Taking a break from flying the Shadows for two weeks, the Soldiers will focus their training on Army Warrior Tasks from March 21-April 4 before resuming air missions to stay current in their ability to conduct their daily operations.

The RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle is part of a larger systems that consists of Humvees to transport all the ground and air equipment, an aircraft launcher, ground control stations with an air vehicle operator and mission payload operator that control the aircraft in flight and a landing system. The system consists of a total of four UAVs.

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