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Cottonbalers, Mustangs team up to protect Soldiers with unmanned aerial systems

August 22, 2013

By Maj. Matthew Fontaine

LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Aug. 20, 2013) - U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment and 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, teamed up to fly their small unmanned aerial systems in order to combat the indirect fire threat at Forward Operating Base Shank, Aug. 14, while they braved the heat and sun.

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Gerald Ratchford, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear officer with 3-7 Inf., and a Tampa, Fla., native, developed a plan to have the SUAS operator's from 3-7 Inf., and 6-8 Cav., team up to combat the IDF threat on FOB Shank.

Their combined effort was a resounding success.

"Our unit's operators quickly got to know one another and started working and communicating together in order to effectively coordinate our joint assets and cover the widest area as possible around FOB Shank," said Ratchford, the primary UAS officer-in-charge for 3-7 Inf.

The Soldiers routinely fly their Puma and Raven SUAS with a high degree of safety and success to search for enemies of Afghanistan, who plan and prepare attacks on U.S. and Afghan bases.

During a recent PUMA UAS surveillance mission, Ratchford, together with 6-8 Cav. personnel, identified enemy personnel preparing an indirect fire attack. Ratchford quickly reported this information to the 6-8 Cav. tactical operations center, which reacted and took appropriate measure to prevent the attack and potentially saved lives.

"Communication was essential between our two units," Ratchford said. "If we had not trained and worked together as well as we have, that attack could have gone off and easily killed our Soldiers."

The SUAS operators have been flying both the Puma and Raven SUAS around the clock with each operator racking up more than 150 flight hours.

In addition to preventing IDF attacks, the SUAS is often used to support the U.S. and Afghan forces operating on the ground. They provide an eye in the sky when soldiers are in contact with the enemy or fly low as a deterrent. They can also serve as an intelligence collection platform, locating compounds of interest.

These assets have been pivotal to the overall success of the 4th IBCT, also known as Task Force Vanguard, in Logar province.

"We can fly in a way the enemy knows we are there, or we can fly in a way they can never see us," said U.S. Army Spc. Andrew Wright, a cavalry scout and a Raven operator with 6-8 Cav. "Either way we can see the enemy at all times," added the Carson City, Nev., native.

The enemy is not the only thing the operators must look for. The airspace around FOB Shank is heavily congested with helicopters, airplanes and other UAVs. The operators are responsible for avoiding a mid-air collision.

"There have been some surprisingly stressful times I've had while flying," said U.S. Army Spc. Jordan Hensler, a Puma operator and cavalry scout with 6-8 Cav. "While trying to keep an eye on the enemy, I have to constantly ensure my airspace is clear of other aircraft," said the Madison, Wis., native.

The Puma and Raven systems operators quietly keep an eye in the sky and watch for any potential dangers vital to combating the enemy threat surrounding FOB Shank. Their teamwork continues to protect Soldiers and is a prime example of what Task Force Vanguard is all about.

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