Fort Huachuca, Arizona -- Col. Lonnie Hibbard, deputy commanding general for sustainment, 7th Infantry Division, visited Fort Huachuca's Hubbard Landing Zone on the East Range Jan. 19 "to see how operations are going and if there are any obstacles that would prevent training."

The 14th Brigade Engineering Battalion, 2nd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, is stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and is conducting a proficiency exercise at Fort Huachuca as they go through the steps for launching and flying the Shadow unmanned aircraft system.

Hibbard explained, "The Soldiers are doing their readiness-level progression, so you have a new operator who's learned the basics but need hours for proficiency."

He said Fort Huachuca offers the 14th BEB a significant amount of savings in training time.
"One of the advantages we have [training] here is weather. The opportunity to fly is significantly better here. With the ceilings, we get one, if we are lucky, two flying days per week. [When] we have the opportunity to come down here, in four-week period we can accomplish what we would in six months in the winter time at JBLM. It's a very focused training period."

Fort Huachuca also offers other advantages for training.

"It's not only Fort Huachuca, it's the air field, the air space and the restricted air space that Fort Huachuca offers."

Spc. Spencer Gawkoski, 14th BEB, 2-2 SBCT, Delta Company, is an aircraft commander and unit trainer. He described his job as "to fly and train all the different operators in our platoon." and to "make sure that we stay proficient and stay up on what we know."

Gawkoski said they were in Arizona for the training due to the weather and runways. They are not able to train in Washington at the moment.

"So this is the best way for us to get some training and stay current," he said. Their goal was to train new and existing operators. "When we are not overseas, it is what we do all the time. We are trying to train and stay current with our currency hours."

Training at Fort Huachuca is "something our command is hoping we can do on a more regular basis. They can see that it's something that's very valuable to us. They try and have us go somewhere pretty often, every couple months, to fly," said Gawkoski. "It's different to fly here than say, Washington. Washington is lower to the sea level. Up here we have high altitude operations which just varies based on how you fly and how the aircraft reacts to the thinner air."

Staff Sgt. Eric Ross, 14th BEB, 2-2 SBCT, Delta Company, has been with the platoon for six months. He's recently moved from manned aviation to unmanned aviation. Ross said operators "have to meet a proficiency standard with so many launches [and a] certain amount of flights. This training helps them meet those goals."

Ross said training at Fort Huachuca is a positive change.

"We deal with constant weather changes at JBLM, coming down here to Fort Huachuca, it's a lot better for us. Especially the time spent training. Our goal is for all of our maintainers to make crew chief. And the time spent here helps meet that. Launch, maintenance and repair experience is invaluable."

Spc. Joshua Collins, 14th BEB, 2-2 SBCT, is one of the senior crew chiefs and said he runs the maintenance aspect of flying operation. "I launch and recover the aircraft and when it comes back down, I repair it. Imagine that I'm a pit crew for the UAS."