AL ASAD, Iraq - U.S. Army Soldiers with Company D, 10th Aviation Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, give the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command - Operation Inherent Resolve, fire support on the battlefield from the skies.
No, they do not fly UH-60 Black Hawk or AH-64 Apache helicopters. They fly unmanned aerial systems, better known as UASs.
More specifically, the team operate MQ-1C Gray Eagles, one of the largest military unmanned aircrafts with a length of 28 feet and a 56-foot wingspan.
The Gray Eagle is a versatile, long-range, long-lasting force multiplier utilized to provide intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and attack reconnaissance, said U.S. Army Spc. Michael Scharp, a UAS operator with 10th Avn. Regt, 10th Mtn. Div.
According to U.S. Army Capt. Joshua Heiner, commander of D Co., 10th Avn. Regt., 10th Mtn. Div., his unit is in Iraq to provide dedicated and consistent support to the Coalition to help the Government of Iraq defeat ISIS.
"Everything we do is to support the Iraqis," Heiner said. "We are doing very well considering the experience level. Especially with these UASs being so new. We are a young group and the Gray Eagle is just as young."
Heiner described his team as being very enthusiastic and with most of his operators and maintainers being junior-enlisted, their age does not stop them from fulfilling their mission.
"Knowing that we are supporting the men and women on the ground push forward with their mission is the most rewarding part of this job," U.S. Army Sgt. Gabriel Garcia, a squad leader with D Co., 10th Avn. Regt., 10th Mtn. Div., said.
Garcia referred to the nearly-decade old UASs as still being one of the latest and greatest piece of machinery to support the U.S. Army.
According to the U.S. Army, the Gray Eagle is a long-endurance platform, able to fly for nearly 27 hours at a time at speeds of up to 150 knots, while carrying up to four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.
With the complexity of such a piece of equipment, the demand for its use is always high, Garcia said.
"Our days are extremely fast-paced, all while paying close attention to details," Garcia said.
Their attention to detail is not limited to aviation, they must be technically knowledgeable as well.
Garcia said the UAS is basically a computer being flown by several computers, which increases safety for service members.
"We don't have to worry about a pilot putting their life in danger by flying into combat," Garcia said.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Julio Matta, a standardization operator with 10th Avn. Regt, 10th Mtn. Div., said their technological capabilities provide a tremendous asset to the battlefield.
"The ability for 24/7 coverage of the battlefield, to include reconnaissance and attacks, allows commanders of a higher echelon to track the changes on the battlefield," Matta said.
A lot of planning and preparation goes into each mission but it does not stop there, Matta said.
"While on missions, before missions, and even post-missions, things change so rapidly that 'game planning' is non-stop," Matta said.
The team will incorporate the weather, time and fuel into their extensive planning process because each environment they fly in is dynamic, Scharp said.
Every situation the team has encountered provides its own set of challenges and obstacles that they must face and overcome, but the job demands are well worth it, Scharp said.
"I love to fly and I get paid to serve in this capacity, which ensures my family is taken care of and I get to continue to serve my country," Matta said.