FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq — Being a Soldier in the 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 SSG Ray Lemlin, a platoon sergeant in A Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion. “The goal is always to spot them before they can hurt us.”
Since their arrival at FOB Kalsu, Lemlin’s section has been vigilant in making sure all of the aircraft are ready to go. Lemlin said 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 100 percent than for more than a couple of hours.”
The section’s commitment to excellence is shaped by its desire to keep fellow Soldiers safe.“It’s our job to keep our guys out of harm’s way,” said SGT Richard Knuth, a maintainer in A Company 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.”
Lemlin said 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 a 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 Merkel said is much harder than it sounds.“When indirect starts coming in, it’s our job to grab a headset, run the UAV out to the launcher, double check the vehicle, go through our pre-flight checks and launch,” he said. “It takes three people to load the vehicle. It’s 375 pounds. I wouldn’t say it’s heavy, but it takes a bit of work to get it ready to go.”
PFC Anthony McCormack, a controller assigned to A Company from San Diego, knows firsthand how dangerous that indirect fire can be.“I was behind a concrete wall when a rocket landed about 5 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 said his first deployment isn’t exactly what he thought it would be, but 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 of buried explosives and finding enemies that are shooting rockets at us.”