First Army class of UAS maintainers graduates.

Army UAS maintainers

FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. — The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training Battalion graduates its first class of 15E UAS maintainers Sept. 24, adding a new military occupational specialty to the Army. Fort Huachuca is now home to the MOS 15E. Soldiers in the new MOS maintain UASs, such as the Shadow, Grey Eagle (EMRP), and Hunter (MQ-5B).

The full 15E course is 17 weeks long. The course is broken down into seven different modules of training; enabling skills, basic electronic theory, emplace and displace procedures, maintenance, flight operations, and troubleshooting. After that, the Soldiers take their training to the flight line. Most Soldiers coming into the school are new to the Army.

“Starting from the beginning, they learn how to use the basic tools and all that the job requires. That leads into wire maintenance and basic electronics. Then they learn how to set up the equipment and basically learn the whole system as well as the aircraft itself,” explained Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Jenkins, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, UASTB instructor.

“Not only do we maintain the aircraft as far as servicing, fueling, and oiling and doing pre-maintenance checks, we also load the aircraft onto the launcher to get ready for takeoff, added Pvt. Stephan Thomas, Company A, UASTB. Thomas is part of the first class to graduate from the course. He went on to say, “we’re pretty much like a back up for the 15W (operators), we help them out on the line and make sure everything is going smoothly before takeoff; so when the aircraft gets in the air there’s no problem.”

Throughout the course the Soldiers learn about the Shadow, which is currently the base system. Upon graduation, depending on the Department of the Army’s needs, the Soldiers can move on to other courses at Fort Huachuca which teach the other systems.

When the Soldiers graduate, they’ll have the knowledge to effectively perform all phases of maintenance on the UASs, freeing the ground commanders to have eyes on the target, explained Marine Gunnery Sgt. Benton Klock, HHC, UASTB instructor.

Every two weeks a new class starts. There are up to 16 students per class. For the most part, the first class went off without a hitch, according to Jenkins.

Thomas said the training was excellent and he learned a lot from the instructors and subject matter experts, noting especially the instructors who were deployed with the system.

“I went into this not knowing anything about it. I just thought it’s going to be another job, but it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” said Spec. Maria Romero, Company A, UASTB. Romero, a national guard Soldier from Illinois, is currently going through the 15E course.

Before the Army developed the 15E MOS, Sgt. 1st Class Jimmie Jones, HHC, UASTB instructor, said 52D power-generation equipment repairers, 35T military intelligence system repairers and other 15 series MOSs maintained the UASs.

Those who maintained the aircraft prior to developing the 15E MOS were either generator mechanics or communications technician, explained Klock. The servicemembers would then learn an additional skill to maintain the systems. The increasing need for unmanned aircraft support was part of the reason the new MOS was developed. Now, Soldiers in the 15E MOS focus solely on maintaining the systems.

Unmanned aerial vehicles are often called, “eyes in the sky.” UAVs are controlled remotely by a pilot on the ground. They are used by the Army primarily to obtain surveillance intelligence and save the lives of Soldiers during the process since no crew is needed.

“UAV, UAS, whatever you want to call it, their success is measured in the lives saved, and it’s impossible to measure that because we don’t know how many would have made the [ultimate] sacrifice had we not been there,” Klock said.

He adds unmanned aircraft systems are also cost effective. UASs do not burn as much gas as a helicopter or other aircraft. The maintenance and upkeep is also cheaper on the unmanned systems.

A lot of people really don’t know about the system and the job, said Pvt. Leonard Ridgeoy, Company A, UASTB, adding the information is just not out there yet, but the MOS is growing.

“It’s a very important job. … Every day that plane [is] in the air you’re saving lives without the risk of a life,” Ridgeoy explained.

“This is a very important MOS. It’s like the backbone for the infantry and Special Forces. If something’s going [on in] the field or someone’s in trouble we’re like the ‘eyes in the sky.’ We don’t have to send a manned aircraft vehicle to possibly get shot down. We can send an unmanned aircraft vehicle out there to find out where the enemy is and then help out our battle buddy,” added Thomas.

“I think it’s opening up a lot of windows for young kids to get jobs or even stay in the Army, you [get promoted] so much quicker,” said Romero. She went on to say, “there’s a lot of room for moving up in so many ways, Army wise and civilian wise. There are not enough students going through to catch up with both sides. There are just always spots for you to get a job or work on it full time.”

Those thinking about entering the Army as a 15E or changing their MOS shouldn’t be afraid to get their hands dirty. Jones says the Army needs individuals who want to learn, work well with their hands, and don’t worry about getting oil on their uniform.

“If you have a chance to get into something like this I would say jump into it because it is the future,” Jones explained.

“They will never take away manned aircraft completely because there always needs to be a person in the sky, especially when it comes to making that final decision to fire or not to fire. But, we’ll take over a lot of their jobs. A lot of their missions will get pushed down to unmanned aircraft simply because it’s cheaper and safer,” explained Klock.