KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- U.S. Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Command logistics assistance representatives assigned to the 401st Army Field Support Brigade serve as an essential support link to keep Army aircraft flying in southern Afghanistan.
Gilbert Minor, an LAR with the 401st AFSB, has proven himself a valuable asset along the flight lines of Kandahar Air Field, specifically with unmanned aerial systems.
"In a nutshell, we're rendering logistic support to the UAS community here," Minor said. "I'm mainly assigned to Bravo 101st, the Grey Eagle Company, but with the Hunter and Shadow units here, even though they're not green-suiters, I support them as well. It's a team effort, and at the end of the day the collective goal is supporting the warfighter."
The Shadow group is a government-owned and contractor-operated UAS specialized team. Their mission largely involves conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations, all performed by a RG7 Bravo aircraft.
"Primarily, our product is doing local areas of interest," said Frank Jentink, UAS operator, Textron Systems. "So, large-area scans, some route scans for our route clearance patrols, and route clearance teams. If we find anything suspicious or [spot any] nefarious activities it's our job to report it up for further investigation."
The Shadow team's eyes in the sky are can provide a bird's eye view of potential threats surrounding a large area, giving ground troops a detailed look ahead at their routes, vulnerabilities, and tactical advantages.
The nature of the aircraft, however, presents unique challenges when it comes to maintaining them and keeping them airborne.
"The Shadow guys are isolated away from the rest of the airfield, just due to the way their aircraft launches and the way they have to recover," Minor said. "They need their own launch area and airspace, as well as their own recovery area.
"They don't have the logistic support -- special tools, higher level maintenance support, and special items needed to clean their equipment or service their equipment. So, I assist with getting those things for them, or directing them to what they need."
The RG7 Bravo UAS is launched from what is essentially a high-tech catapult, which adds a maintenance element to the whole operation because simply maintaining the aircraft isn't enough. The aircraft doesn't fly if the launcher doesn't work.
The LAR support has been especially welcome when the Shadow team gets stuck trying to engineer a repair without readily available specialized parts, said Jentink.
"Our sister site recently had a launcher with a broken piece on it, and it required kind of a homemade fix that could be approved by our company engineers," Jentink said. "The LARs were able to find us the men that could perform the fix."
Even the adhesives and lubricants used on aviation equipment often must meet very particular specifications, which can become problematic if a shipment of those items arrives late and leaves a team without the necessary consumables.
The LARs take time to build positive relationships with different aviation groups, relationships they can rely on when they must borrow specialized consumables from one team to help another team in an isolated location -- Shadow team, for example.
"LARs have been helping us hand-in-hand, every step of the way," Jentink said. "They're here to help if they can help, and pretty much in a pinch they've always pulled through."
Jentink said he has been impressed with the amount of knowledge and experience of the LARs he has dealt with.
"These LARs are guys who have been in the game for a very long time," Jentink said. "You tell them you need something, and they know why you need it; they know how to get it; they know how long it's going to take; and they can get it to you.
"That's a huge benefit because you don't have to explain exactly what you need and why you need it every time you happen to need something. These guys just know, and that's huge for keeping the mission going."
While each aviation group has its own maintenance technicians and supply chains, the LARs provide continuity through higher level logistics and make sure nothing falls through the cracks that might leave essential aviation inoperable.
"I'm here to help. I'm not here to take over anybody's job," Minor said. "I'm not here to undermine any maintenance professionals or contractors that are supporting the military mission. We all have the same purpose in mind in supporting the warfighter, and I'm here to work together with everyone."
Both Minor and Jentink are Army veterans.
"I like that I know I'm helping the warfighter," Minor said. "I get to contribute to the mission and I get to contribute to making our purpose over here successful, but this is overall very much a team effort."