By Pfc. April CampbellJanuary 10, 2008
CAMP TAJI, Iraq, Jan. 10, 2008 - In the civilian world, sneaking a peak at an exam before taking it will earn someone a failing score. Sneaking a peak at the front lines before leaving the base for a mission, however, can save lives in a combat zone.
Soldiers with the 4th Infantry Division's Unmanned Aerial Systems Platoon, Company A, 3rd Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, help provide that sneak peek for Stryker Brigade soldiers as well as others in the Multinational Division Baghdad operational area. This group is responsible for operating and maintaining the Tactical Unmanned Aerial System for the RQ7B Shadow 200, an unmanned aerial vehicle.
While some Unmanned Aerial Systems Platoon members work at the 3rd BCT Tactical Operations Center, both flying and monitoring the video feed from the Shadow, about half of them are at the launch and recovery site here attached to Company G, Task Force 12, said Army Staff Sgt. Robert Lilly, the platoon sergeant.
Soldiers of 3rd BCT at the launch and recovery site, working as part of Task Force 12, work with soldiers from other brigades in the Baghdad area of operations recovering and launching Shadows throughout the day.
The Shadows they launch and recover will not necessarily spend all of their flight time in any one brigade's area of operations, said New York City native Chief Warrant Officer 2 Antonio Mitchell, the Striker Brigade's Unmanned Aerial Systems Platoon operations chief, attached to Company G, Task Force 12.
"What we are doing here is not a traditional UAS operation," said Mitchell, who has been working in the unmanned aerial vehicle field since 1997. "Normally, a UAS platoon works directly for (its) brigade."
Because there are several brigades in Baghdad, multinational division officials determine which one gets to use the Shadow and for which missions, said Lilly, a Beckley, W.Va., native.
The division grants the brigade's airspace priority based on the threat and the amount of benefit it will provide in a certain area for a certain period of time, Mitchell said.
When a Shadow is in the Stryker Brigade area of operations, Unmanned Aerial Systems Platoon soldiers in the brigade tactical operations center monitor the video it produces. Nearby, other soldiers remotely control the unmanned vehicle, Lilly said.
Soldiers may be monitoring an area of interest for various reasons, including sweeping areas for improvised explosive devices as well as helping soldiers with specific operations, Lilly added.
"Before soldiers go out on a mission, we can give them a better picture of the battlefield," Lilly said.
Having a bird's-eye view helps keep soldiers safe and allows them a greater success rate during their missions, he added.