FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq – Being a Soldier in the United States Army is a full-time job. No one understands that more than the Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division’s unmanned aerial vehicle cell. Twenty-four hours a day they monitor the 3rd HBCT’s area of operation from above.
“We are always on the lookout for the bad guys,” said Staff Sgt. Ray Lemlin, a platoon sergeant in Company A, Brigade Special Troops Battalion. “The goal is always to spot them before they can hurt us.”
Since their arrival to FOB Kalsu, Lemlin’s section has been vigilant in making sure that all of their aircrafts are ready to go. According to Lemlin, a UAV that can’t fly doesn’t do anyone any good.
“Our platoon is very meticulous when it comes to maintenance,” said Lemlin, a native of Miami. “We rarely have an aircraft down because of maintenance issues. We have never been at less than 75 percent strength. To be honest, we have never been at less than a hundred percent than for more than a couple of hours.”
The section’s commitment to excellence is shaped by their desire to keep their fellow Soldiers safe.
“It’s our job to keep our guys out of harm’s way,” said Sgt. Richard Knuth, a maintainer in Company A from Merkel, Texas. “It’s a good feeling, but it requires us to have a pretty high set of standards. We can have a lot of down time between flights so we’ve got to maintain our focus and not let duties become routine.”
According to Lemlin, his Soldiers must always be ready to launch a UAV, even when indirect fire is raining down on the FOB.
“Depending on where we have UAV operating, we may have to get another camera up when the bad guys try to throw indirect fire at us,” he said. “That means our guys have to have the UAV up in 15 minutes or less.”
Which, according to Merkel, is much harder than it sounds.
“When indirect starts coming in, it’s our job to grab a head-set, run the UAV out to the launcher, double check the vehicle, go through our pre-flight checks and launch,” he explained. “It takes three people to load the vehicle. Its 375 pounds. I wouldn’t say it’s heavy, but it takes a bit of work to get it ready to go.”
They do all of this as everyone else on the FOB is running for the cover of concrete shelters.
“It’s what we signed up for,” said Merkel. “If we aren’t out there in the open for those few minutes, we may miss a chance to catch the bad guys who are doing it.”
Pfc. Anthony McCormack, a controller assigned to Company A from San Diego, knows first-hand how dangerous that indirect fire can be.
“I was behind a concrete wall when a rocket landed about five feet from me,” he said. “It was scary, but it did definitely help create a better sense of urgency in me. I understand why what I do is important being on the receiving of something like that.”
McCormack admits that his first deployment isn’t exactly what he thought it would be, but he said that his motivation is still to keep his fellow Soldiers out of harm’s way.
“As an enlisted Soldier, this is as close as you can get to being a pilot,” he said. “It’s a fun job, but it feels good to know that I’m helping keep Soldiers safe by checking routes, by looking for signs for buried explosives and finding enemies that are shooting rockets at us.”
As the Soldiers of the 3rd HBCT continue their mission across five provinces in Iraq, they can rest assured they have an eye in the sky ensuring their safety.
Sgt. Richard Knuth, an unmanned aerial vehicle maintainer in Company A, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, does a pre-flight check on one of his vehicles at Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Iraq, Jan. 25. In order to keep up with the demands of the 3rd HBCT’s mission, Knuth and his fellow maintainers in Company A maintain a throughout maintenance schedule to ensure all the aircrafts are ready to launch at a moment’s notice.
Sgt. Winston Chin (left), Sgt. Richard Knuth (middle) and Sgt. Craig Mulder, all assigned to Company A, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, readjust an unmanned aerial vehicle launcher to better situate it with the direction of the wind, Jan. 25, at Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Iraq. UAV’s typically launch into the wind in order to maintain proper lift.
Pfc. Anthony McCormack, a controller assigned to Company A, Company A, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, wheels an unmanned aerial vehicle out to a launcher at Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Iraq, Jan. 25. The vehicle, which weighs over 300 pounds, requires three Soldiers to load it on to the launcher.
Sgt. Richard Knuth (left) and Sgt. Winston Chin (right), both assigned to Company A, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, adjust an unmanned aerial vehicle on it’s a launcher, Jan. 25, at Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Iraq. Before they are launched, UAVs go through a pre-flight inspection to ensure all of their systems are in proper working order.