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American Forces Press Service

Historic Launch Held at Camp Taji

By Cpl. Nathan Hoskins, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP TAJI, Iraq , Oct. 22, 2007 – The residents of this camp are exposed to an incessant buzzing -- a sound of safety for the troops on the ground in Multinational Division Baghdad area of operations.

The source of all this racket is the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division’s unmanned aerial vehicle launch site.

The soldiers of Company E, 615th Aviation Support “Cold Steel” Battalion, have been working day and night pushing the limits of their equipment to ensure troops on the ground in Baghdad have an extra set of eyes overhead and setting records in the process, said 1st Sgt. Joseph Bell, the senior noncommissioned officer for Company E.

“We have recently passed 30,000 flight hours, which is almost double what (the previous unit) flew,” said Bell, who hails from Jacksonville, Fla. “Our goal was to actually reach 25,000 (flight hours), but then we passed that. We just keep pushing the envelope.”

Pushing the envelope is now the standard for Company E, which assists several brigades within the Multinational Division Baghdad area of operations, along with whomever else happens to be rolling through the area, Bell said. Exceeding their goal has had a positive effect on morale throughout the ranks.

“I’m excited because I feel I’m a part of a team. I feel like I helped contribute to make those numbers where they are,” said Galveston, Texas, native Sgt. Christopher Willis, a UAV crew chief and technical inspector for Company E.

“That number is outstanding; everyone is going to try to duplicate that,” Willis said.

Along with being a part of a team that has set the standard for UAV operations, Willis also got to be a part of history when he let Iraqi Lt. Gen. Abud Qanbar, commanding general of Baghdad Operational Command, launch his aircraft Oct. 14. He was not only the first Iraqi general to launch a UAV, but also the first Iraqi to do so, Bell said.

“We would like to see more of our Iraqi counterparts come and actually see what we’re doing to help them out,” Bell said.

After giving a quick briefing about the procedures, Willis handed over the controls to Abud.

“I was excited that he got the opportunity to launch an aircraft. I just made history; I’m a part of history,” Willis said with a big smile.

Letting Abud launch his aircraft was a big deal for Willis. Not only because he made history, but because that aircraft is his “baby.” He said he doesn’t let just anyone touch it. He is with it from launch to recovery, he said.

“When it’s on the launcher, we go around it two or three times just in case because you can forget something the first time around,” Willis said. “So we take this job very seriously and make sure that we get that airplane up.”

With all numbers and accolades aside, Company E soldiers work hard for a singular reason, Willis said. “I honestly like what I do; … I like the positive feedback from launching every aircraft, because I know that we’re getting eyes in the sky for those guys on the ground,” he said.

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