FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training Battalion, part of 1st Aviation Brigade and based at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., brought home both of the Army Aviation Association of America's UAS awards this year at the annual AAAA UAS symposium in Arlington, Va., Dec. 14.

Sgt. 1st Class Kelly Boehning, chief instructor for Gray Eagle, C Company, UASTB, received the award for UAS Soldier of the Year. Lt. Col. Patrick Sullivan, commander of UASTB, received the award for UASTB as the UAS Unit of the Year.

AAAA's president, retired Brig. Gen. Rodney D. Wolfe, praised the award recipients who are an important part of the "fastest growing segment within Army Aviation."

"The dedication and professionalism of our operators such as Sgt. 1st Class Boehning is second to none. The training of our operators and maintainers has set the standards for all others," Wolfe said.

Boehning was among the first Soldiers to be trained on the Gray Eagle system. He and his company, Quick Reaction Capability 1, took the Gray Iraq in 2009-2010 to provide the reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition for ground commanders and to validate the aircraft's performance for a program of record. They supported more than 600 missions and 4,200 hours downrange as the persistent eyes of the Army.

Boehning, whose award was based on his deployment to Iraq as platoon sergeant and UAS instructor-operator for the Gray Eagle, said the award is something he feels like he shares with the other Soldiers.

"Why did they single me out' That's a good question. It's not something quantifiable like I found 25 bad guys or flew a thousand hours more than the next guy. Actually, I think the award is shared among everybody that worked for me, all the other (noncommissioned officers) and the other privates. I was in a leadership position as a platoon sergeant, and you take the good or the bad, whatever your Soldiers bring, and you take the responsibility for it," Boehning said.

Boehning was involved with the Gray Eagle project train-up at El Mirage, Calif., for about five months in 2009, and then deployed with it to Iraq for a year. But his team didn't exactly hit the ground running, Boehning said.

"We took it slowly. We worked for the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade. They kind of warmed us up into some of their operations, and ultimately we worked for a division - 1st Cavalry. They would farm us out to whatever battalion needed us for whatever operation, which changed day by day depending on the needs," he said. "This was the first time that the Gray Eagle had been put to the test operationally. It was still not a program of record so we wanted to test the airframe and the shelter and the software in theater. We were still there to find bad guys. We deployed as an operational unit."

Lt. Col. Patrick Sullivan, commander of the UASTB, who received the award for UAS Unit of the Year, praised Boehning's accomplishments downrange.

"Boehning is very modest. It's a very impressive thing. The reason why he gets selected (for the award) is because behind that great technology is a man," Sullivan said. "The quick reaction capability company was a 17-man company, it had four aircraft. It was really the Office of the Secretary of Defense's and Department of Defense's bridging strategy until the Army could get to full-rate production for the full company of Gray Eagles. They were the first unit to deploy in Operation Iraqi Freedom, what is now Operation New Dawn, with that capability of the Gray Eagle. Gray Eagle is the new program of record."

The UASTB, this year's UAS unit of the year, trains all Army UAS operators (15W), and UAS maintainers (15E), along with tactical unmanned aerial vehicle operations technicians (150U). UASTB trains the Soldiers on platforms including: the Warrior-A - which is exclusively for Task Force ODIN; the Hunter, which supports aerial exploitation battalions; the Shadow, which is the workhorse for Army UAS and is in all the brigade combat teams; and the Gray Eagle, which is the future of the Army with extended range multi-purpose platforms. The battalion also trains the Marines in Shadow operator and maintainer.

The UASTB has more than 21 programs of instruction and over the past year averaged about 2,000 graduates from all its courses, Sullivan said.

Sullivan, who has served as commander at UASTB for more than two years, said UAS are in high demand by ground commanders, which has increased the demand for training at the battalion.

"If it wasn't for that requirement and the insatiable demand for that UAS capability out there to the warfighter, I wouldn't be increasing my (operational tempo) in the battalion. It's pretty exciting to be on the tip of the spear," Sullivan said.