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Eyes in the sky: Minnesota Guard unmanned drone team supports Afghanistan operations
KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan — “We have reports of the Afghan National Army sitting on an improvised explosive device at this location,” says a voice over the radio in a cramped control shelter Aug 25 “Can you give me an ETA?”
“Roger,” replies one of the unmanned aerial system operators listening in “We’re 22 kilometers out It’ll be 10 mikes”
That conversation wouldn’t be out of place in a fast paced spy thriller But for the Unmanned Aerial Surveillance (UAS) Platoon of Company B, Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke, a conversation such as this, between UAS operators and their crew chief, happens on a regular basis at Forward Operating Base Sharana, Afghanistan
The UAS Shadow is a remotely controlled aircraft with a camera attached that provides commanders with reconnaissance and surveillance without putting any soldiers in harm’s way, said US Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Percell Hunter, a UAS platoon leader for Company B, STB, and native of Newport News, Va
In addition to its reconnaissance capabilities, the system can also point out targets to ground troops, and carry a communications relay package that allows two groups who are out of line-of-sight from each other to communicate, an ability of great importance in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, where TF Duke is operating
It does this by flying between the two groups and bouncing the transmission from one group to the Shadow then to the other group, Hunter said
“It [also] gives commanders a chance to see what they normally can’t,” said US Army Staff Sgt Michael Mikrut, the UAS platoon sergeant and a native of Chicago “The UAS Shadow provides them with a situational awareness they would not normally have”
“There is so much you have to be aware of when you fly a UAS,” Keehn said “You have to be aware of wind speed, temperature, humidity and other aircraft in the area”
Communication plays a big part in the completion of successful UAS missions, said US Army Sgt Bill Parris, a UAS maintainer with Company B, STB and a native of Pickens, SC
UAS maintainers are responsible for performing maintenance and preflight checks on the aircraft, and helping the operators when the UAS is airborne
“You have to have situational awareness of air traffic or changes in wind speed because the UAS operators can’t see everything,” he explained
For Parris, the conversation between operator and maintainer is like a ping-pong game
With helicopters and other aircraft using the same air space, the maintainer-operator conversation isn’t the only important one, said Mikrut
“There are a lot of airspace communications,” Mikrut said
“Sometimes the airspace you are flying in gets taken away because another aircraft needs it more You have to be quick to respond in those situations”
To prepare for deployment, the UAS team undertook several flight operations training exercises, Hunter said In these operations they endeavored to prepare their maintainers, who work on the aircraft, and operators, who fly the aircraft, to do their job without needing someone looking over their shoulder
The training they received at their home-base of Fort Knox is a benefit to them in Afghanistan, Parris said However, they received several new soldiers, since arriving in country who did not have the chance to train with the unit
“It’s kind of a trial by fire” Parris said “They just have to get in there and do it While deployed they have plenty of opportunity to train and learn their job”
The environment of eastern Afghanistan has many differences compared to Fort Knox that the crew has to be aware of when flying, Mikrut said For starters, they are at an altitude of 7,300 feet and the air density is different than it would be at sea level, or even Fort Knox This makes takeoffs and landings more complicated
Being aware of these differences is important and knowing what to do in any conditions can mean the difference between landing a bird safely, or losing it, Mikrut said
Posted: 2017-03-24 10:19 AM CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - Every spring Camp Ripley begins its annual controlled burn program to help reduce the risk of wildfire during training.
"Usually the burns are completed every spring before the summer annual training season begins," said Tim Notch, training area coordinator on Camp Ripley. "However, the warmer weather conditions provide a nice opportunity for preventative burns earlier this season."
As in years past Camp Ripley will conduct controlled burns on approximately 13,000 acres of the 53,000-acre military reservation. The burns are done in coordination with the staffs of the Camp Ripley Department of Public Works and the Camp Ripley Environmental Department along with support from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Posted: 2017-03-23 09:46 AM DULUTH, Minn. - Pfc. Trevor Nelson received the Minnesota Distinguished Recruiting Ribbon and a Minnesota Recruiting and Retention Battalion medallion for excellence from Command Sgt. Maj. Curtis Serbus, March 18, 2017, at the Duluth Armory. Nelson earned these awards as part of the online referral system, Leads 2 Enlistment for referring four friends who have joined the Minnesota National Guard.
"I talked to some buddies in my school about the Guard. They liked the benefits, so I put their info in the app and let my recruiter take over." said Nelson. "I thought it would be fun to serve with friends and help them figure out their path in life."
Nelson is currently a senior at Cloquet Senior High School and assigned to the Recruit Sustainment Program in Duluth. He attended basic training at Fort Benning in the summer of 2016 with follow-on training in the summer of 2017 to become an infantryman.
Posted: 2017-03-10 08:50 AM LITCHFIELD, Minn. -Bruce Cottington, a Navy veteran of WWII and Korea, donated a bronze bust of Gen. John W. Vessey, Jr. to the Litchfield National Guard unit during the armory's public open house event March 4. Cottington, a Litchfield resident, commands the Minnesota Chapter of the Veterans of Underage Military Service. VUMS members enlisted in the military prior to the minimum age requirement in order to serve their country during WWII. Cottington received the bust from Vessey, a fellow VUMS member. Both enlisted in the military at the age of 16.
The highlight of the 334th Brigade Engineer Battalion open house was the unveiling of the sculpture. The unit was very supportive when Cottington proposed donating the sculpture. The Litchfield community has always been very supportive of the National Guard over the years, so the open house was a chance to say 'thanks' to their neighbors. "This was a great opportunity to honor Bruce and to honor Gen. Vessey," said B Co., 334th Brigade Engineer Battalion Commander, Capt. Seth Goreham. Bravo Company also has a tight relationship with the local American Legion and VFW. Many Litchfield citizens are former members of Bravo Company, or the unit's predecessors A Co, 682nd Engineer Battalion, and the 849th Mobility Augmentation Company.
Posted: 2017-03-08 03:29 PM CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - The garrison command team of Camp Ripley, family, friends and colleagues from the Minnesota National Guard attended a Change of Responsibility ceremony between Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Worden and Command Sgt. Maj. Matt Erickson, March 5, 2017, at Camp Ripley.
The ceremony was an official "passing of the sword" from one senior noncommissioned officer to the next and assumption of the duties and responsibilities that go along with the position of Garrison Command Sergeant Major.
As with many military ceremonies those in attendance welcomed Erickson as a new member of the team and bid farewell, recognized and thanked Worden for his service.