By Amy Sunseri, Natalie Lakosil and Joan VaseyOctober 10, 2012
Fort Huachuca, AZ. - Unmanned aircraft systems, or UASs, are often called "eyes in the sky." That is because UASs can film videos of potentially hostile locations and transmit the imagery over many miles while not putting Soldiers in harm's way. The aircraft systems are controlled remotely by a pilot on the ground. Specially trained 15E unmanned aircraft systems repairers provide maintenance support for the Shadow 200, Hunter and Gray Eagle, enabling these UASs to execute their missions.
In 2003, as UAS continued to grow, the manpower needed to provide maintenance to the systems began to outstrip the trained manpower available in the military occupational specialty, according to David Duckett, a 15E training instructor. That is why the 15E MOS was developed -- to solely provide system support and maintenance.
"UAS offers a unique vision of the battlefield which provides over-watch for ground troops engaged in combat and convoy operations. Without proper maintenance and support of UAS, the critical missions they support, the risk of casualties to ground forces increase by 30 percent," explained Duckett.
The 15E course on Fort Huachuca is 17 weeks long. There are eight students per class, and generally about 50 classes per year. The Soldiers who attend learn basic aviation maintenance fundamentals, policies and procedures, record keeping, basic electronic theory, maintenance and fault isolation instruction on the Shadow 200 UAS. Selected Soldiers may attend additional training on the Hunter and Gray Eagle UAS. While training here, the students are assigned to Company A, 2-13th Aviation Regiment at the Black Tower Training Facility.
The MOS is taught on Fort Huachuca since unmanned aircraft were originally developed at Fort Huachuca, explained Duckett. At the time, Fort Huachuca possessed the only restricted airspace for UAS in the United States, he added.
Soldiers who enlist for the 15E MOS do so for a variety of reasons. Many are fascinated with aviation and planning for future civilian employment.
"I was looking into aviation before I came in," said Pvt. Joseph Garcia, adding that the 15E MOS was not his first choice. He could not get the aviation-related MOS he originally wanted.
"I started doing my homework on unmanned aircraft systems, and seeing that that's where the Army is going these days, it seemed pretty interesting," he explained.
"I haven't really decided if I am going to make the Army my career yet, but if not, the civilian world seems to [be going] that way. I come from a police background. UAVs [another name for UASs] seem to be making their way to police departments, so maybe I'll make that the next career choice."
"I have a passion for aviation. I just figured unmanned is where the Army is going in the future, and I want to be a part of it," said Pfc. Robert Learned, who has been in the Army since May. "I would like to make it a career and stay in as long as I can." He added that when he gets out, he might continue with a UAS career.
Without highly skilled maintainers, UAS systems in the field could spend many hours of downtime, which would affect their mission-related role. While assigned here, the students learn the skills necessary to keep UASs airborne as much as possible.
"All of the training is valuable," said Learned. "In Enabling Skills Branch they teach us all sorts of stuff we need to know -- forms and regulations. In Basic Electronic Theory we learn electronics."
"We [recently went through] emplace and displace [training], and that seems to be what most of our job will consist of. Setting up our equipment, taking it back down, small maintenance on the actual bird itself," Garcia explained.
"Right now, we are doing maintenance. I like maintenance. It is more of figuring things out, more learning how things work, more hands on," he added.
Most of the 15E instructors are Soldiers, and military training and leadership is blended with the course instruction. Staff Sgt. Shawn Frazzini explained why he teaches.
"The Army actually told me that I was going to do this. I reclassed [reclassified] from infantry to aviation for something else and the Army said, 'we want you to work with the Shadow.'
"It is not so much the MOS. I just want to teach Soldiers to be a Soldier and [teaching] the MOS is just a bonus," he added.
"The most important part [about the training] for me is that everybody needs to strive for excellence. There's the standard, the minimum, but if you are shooting for that then you are not doing your job. … You need to try to be at excellence," he said. This is the standard to which he teaches.
Upon graduation, 15E Soldiers are typically assigned to Shadow platoons located within brigade combat teams in order to provide the brigade commanders with their own on-demand UAS capability, stated Duckett.
"There is no glory in maintenance, but the job satisfaction comes from knowing you are saving lives," Duckett added.