The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or drone, is considered to be one of the most technically advanced assets the Army has at its disposal and has been used to support combat, security and stability operations throughout Afghanistan. From 2001 to 2008 alone the amount of UAVs in the military increased 25-fold, putting the total UAV assets at more than 5,000. With such a large increase in the use of UAVs, the importance of Sgt. 1st Class Lee Priest's job cannot be overemphasized.
Priest, the Materiel Readiness Branch non-commissioned officer in charge and aviation maintenance manager for the 3d ESC, is responsible for monitoring the status of all UAV assets across the theater (Afghanistan).
"My job is to report ground and aviation fleet readiness by collecting data through reports from our down trace units," said Priest. "We check for systemic trends in unscheduled maintenance, as well as ensuring all units comply with ground safety and aviation safety messages."
Priest said UAVs perform an important duty in Afghanistan, even as U.S. forces begin to transition out of the country.
"With the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan it's imperative to maintain a level of force protection and UAVs are instrumental in that aspect," said Priest. "They provide overhead cover for our forces to be able to focus on retrograding equipment. With the number of boots on ground decreasing, having that sense of security helps us focus on our task at hand and ensures we are able to sustain the line."
When faults do arise on the UAVs, the Army has a specific MOS that deals with repairs of the UAV in addition to regularly scheduled maintenance.
Spc. Nathan Kennedy, a UAV systems repairer with Task Force Gray Eagle, has worked on many [UAVs] since being in theater.
Kennedy said since he's been in theater he has enjoyed working with the UAVs and says the job he does is gratifying.
"Making sure that these aircraft get up in the air to possibly save the lives of fellow Soldiers carries a high sense of pride for me," said Kennedy.
While Kennedy is glad he picked his job, he said the UAVs schematics can be difficult for some individuals to grasp.
"Mechanically, the UAV is not very difficult to work with," said Kennedy. "However, the schematics and theory of operation can be quite difficult to understand."
Priest said with the help of UAV maintainers, operators and the advancing technology, he believes the military will continue to advance the use of UAV's in the future.
"As technology increases and we look to draw down troops the UAV, in my opinion, will be a vital option to the military," said Priest. "It has long range capability, unmatched surveillance, it can be outfitted with various armaments and most importantly it's unmanned."