FORWARD OPERATING BASE FENTY, Afghanistan, Oct. 16, 2007 - The soldiers came from different locations, with different backgrounds, but they had one thing in common: an overwhelming eagerness to learn how to use the Raven unmanned aerial vehicle in the battlefield.
While the Raven looks deceptively like a remote-controlled hobby plane it is actually a high-tech device that can provide real-time footage or still images of the battlefield. The 10-day training program was conducted in Nangarhar province Oct. 5-15, 2007.
"It is a great tool," said Army Spc. Sean M. Noel, an infantryman from Company C, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, speaking of the Raven. "Before we go out to hit an objective, we can look at [the imaging.] To have this ability, it saves lives basically. We know what we are going up against."
The training course consisted of both classroom time and time spent outdoors flying the Raven.
"In the morning time we try to do classroom, where we do 'death by PowerPoint'," said Army Cpl. Erick J. Rodas, the 173rd Airborne Brigade master trainer for the Raven. "I try to liven it up by making after lunch strictly field site."
Rodas is a light-wheel vehicle mechanic by trade. He was chosen to become the brigade master trainer because he did so well when he attended a Raven training course on Fort Benning, Ga.
"When I was in Benning, I was the only student who earned what they call the 'Rock Star Award,'" Rodas said. "I got 100 percent on all of my exams. I showed proficiency and never failed a launch."
Ironically, Rodas was actually in a rock band at one point. He credits that with giving him confidence at age 22 to stand up in front of a class and teach students who may be twice his age.
Army Pfc. Andrew W. Powers, a military policeman with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Special Troops Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade, said Rodas taught the class well.
"He is a great teacher," said Powers. "He gave us a lot of hands-on instruction, which is good for me, I am a hands-on learner."
Powers said he thinks the Raven will be a beneficial tool for his unit, which sometimes participates in overnight missions when visibility is very limited.
Noel said he would encourage other soldiers to learn about unmanned aerial vehicles as well.
"Technology is growing," Noel explained. "The future is upon us and everything isn't about shooting guns any more."