The Stalkers of D Company, 326th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), recently conducted an unmanned aerial surveillance gunnery exercise with the RQ-7B Shadow at Range 71, perfecting brigade intelligence operations.
The gunnery exercise was a two-week training for all UAS operators, enabling aerial reconnaissance and intelligence surveillance across the battlefield for future operations.
More than 10 Soldiers executed Gunnery Table VI from their shelter, a universal ground control station. There they control the aircraft in an arcade-like arena, fitted with joy sticks and large screens depicting the flight of the Shadow.
But this setting is far from a video game. These intelligence professionals conduct flight operations, providing timely and accurate reconnaissance from the sky. Their efforts help the the brigade develop a common operational picture of the battlefield to facilitate key tactical decisions.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Sam McKamey, UAS technician assigned to D Company, 326th Brigade Engineer Battalion, led the training exercise for his Soldiers.
“We’ve actually posted 50 hours of flight,” McKamey said. “Everyone is doing a great job. It’s been very productive. We’re conducting 24-hour operations and flying day and night to qualify our Soldiers. We’ve had the opportunity to add further realistic measures in the training as we’ve even joined the Rak [Rakkasans] during their tactical lanes injecting into their scenario giving them targets. They’re performing quite well during the scenarios.”
Range 71 appears to be quiet, with not much traffic to speak of. But this perception is purposefully deceiving. The stealthy Soldiers were extremely active, tucked away in their shelters constantly flying missions and collecting data on the field below.
Private First Class Nicholas Knight, UAS operator, was one of the Soldiers participating in the exercise. Glued to his seat, his hands steady on the controls and eyes laser-focused on the screen.
“This is my first flight on this airfield,” Knight said. “It’s a little different from the schoolhouse, but it’s a lot more practical. At the schoolhouse we were more focused on memorization, but here I see and understand what all this training truly means. Personally, I thank Staff Sgt. Luis Victor. He has taught me a lot of troubleshooting techniques and how to operate within the shelter.”
Staff Sgt. Luis Victor, UAS operator and mentor for the exercise, trained and graded Soldiers on their technique.
“This is where my passion is,” Luis Victor said. “The students we’re training are doing extremely well out here, especially coming straight out of the schoolhouse with a lot they didn’t really know. Teaching them the job itself, maintaining records and how to truly perform in the shelter has been significantly better.”
While UAS operators and trainers are critical to the intelligence preparation of the battlefield, they are not the only party involved. The crew chief and the UAS maintainers may have the most significant role in this operation. They are responsible for the maintenance and safety of all four Shadows in the platoon, ensuring they can get off the take flight.
“I make sure there are absolutely no issues with the UAS,” said Staff Sergeant Hector Perezaloy, crew chief for D Company, 326th Brigade Engineer Battalion. “We make sure the oil, maintenance, launcher and aircraft are 100% ready to go so it does not jeopardize the mission.”
Along the runway you can find Perezaloy near the Shadow launcher, conducting pre-flight checks to ensure perfect operations.
“We maintain all four Shadows and take a lot of pride ensuring each one is ready for the brigade,” he said.
With attention to detail on both the maintenance and operations portions of UAS gunnery, these crews will be ready to enable the brigade to make sound decisions on the battlefield when our nation calls.