FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, Kirkuk, Iraq- A group of insurgents waits in the dark to ambush a convoy. They sit patiently, eager, having planned the attack and thinking they know what to expect. A few minutes pass and then-suddenly, they are inexplicably blinded by spotlights as Soldiers seemingly from nowhere take advantage of their disorientation and safely disarm them.

There was one thing that the attackers did not consider; the "eye in sky" that can see in the dark.

"Our mission is to provide route reconnaissance, counter-improvised explosive device watch, counter-indirect fire support and look for suspicious activity," said Spc. Mark Mushen, a San Antonio, Texas, native and an unmanned aerial vehicle operator for Company A, 2nd Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.

"We have a good field of view because we fly at a pretty high altitude," said Sgt. Travis Nunn, a Siloam Springs, Ark., native and a UAV operator for Company A. "We can see things that they can't always see."

According to Mushen, the UAV offers Soldiers near real-time imagery of an area and can scout areas days in advance to give Soldiers an idea of what to expect.

This is especially true at night, because the UAVs have infrared cameras that allow us to see really clearly, said Nunn.

Nunn said UAVs are used to detect small-arms fire, uncovered improvised explosive device sights and enemy activity, and that UAVs are the first ones on the scene if the forward operating base receives incoming fire.

"If there is anything that happens, we get redirected to cover it," said Nunn.

For the Soldiers who are on the ground, the UAVs give them the capability to see who is coming and going near the objective a few hours before without worrying about detection, said 2nd. Lt. Gen Mui, a Killeen, Texas, native and a battle captain for 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div.

"They have directly helped our unit in the past," said Mui.

"If they need us, we are there," said Mushen. "We mitigate risk."

"If we get shot down, no one dies," said Nunn.

For the Soldiers who operate the UAVs, there is a direct relationship to the chance of mission success.

"It's a good feeling to be able to help troops out," said Mushen. "You've made their job easier. You're an extra set of eyes."

"The biggest reward is helping save lives on the ground," said Nunn.

Mushen said many people believe flying a UAV is like a movie: lots of action. In reality, there is actually a lot of time spent just flying around, or making repairs to the vehicle on the ground.

UAV operators go through a lot of checks before putting one in the air, explained Nunn. They ensure everything is working like it should, double-checking everything from the headings to the engine.

But, when a UAV finally finds something, it makes it all the preparation worthwhile, said Mushen.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16