Gray Eagle takes flight: 1st ID unmanned aircraft system company begins Afghanistan deployment

By Mollie Miller, 1st Infantry Division Public Affairs

FORT RILEY, Kan. (Feb. 4, 2013) — A company of 1st Infantry Division Soldiers responsible for operating and maintaining one of the Army’s newest unmanned aircraft systems, departed Fort Riley, Jan. 29, destined for Afghanistan.

Soldiers assigned to Company F, 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, cased their company colors during a brief evening ceremony in front of family and friends at the Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft system, or UAS, hangar on Marshall Army Airfield. The ceremony was the final piece of a very busy deployment preparation plan that began less than 12 months ago with the company’s activation ceremony at the very same location.

Lt. Col. Ed Vedder, commander, 1-1 ARB, applauded the deploying Soldiers’ constant hard work during the past several months and noted that the Fenix Company team illustrates that “excellence can occur.”

“This is the best-trained, most prepared Gray Eagle company to ever deploy in the United States Army,” Vedder said.

The Gray Eagle is a medium-altitude, long-endurance system designed to perform better at higher altitudes, designed to see and listen better than its predecessors. New targeting systems and a new engine also allow the aircraft to fly longer and higher and carry more weight than many of the Army’s previous unmanned systems.

During remarks at the company’s April 12, 2012, activation ceremony, 1st CAB Commander Col. Mike Morgan celebrated the Gray Eagle’s capabilities, adding that the system is a key part of the Army’s modern full-spectrum combat aviation brigade.

“Our missions of today and tomorrow require overhead platforms that provide new, real-time intelligence, surveillance, security and targeting,” he said. “Gray Eagle is a state-of-the-art platform that allows ground forces to move further faster and provides a picture for the commanders so they can make more informed decisions for maneuver and security.”

Fenix Company is home to more than 120 Soldiers, who represent more than 20 military occupational specialties. Considered “self-sustaining,” the company can pack up, deploy, unpack, launch, get the mission done and move again if necessary all the while fueling themselves, launching themselves, feeding themselves and taking care of the ground force.

The Fort Riley-based company is the first Gray Eagle unit in the Army to train at and deploy from their home station.

“You exist to support the ground force commander,” Vedder said. “Be vigilant and watch out for each other. You will save lives and make a difference (downrange).”

Gray Eagle Operator Spc. Ian Klaiber was the second member of Company F to arrive at Fort Riley. The young Soldier has watched his company go from occupying a single office with no furniture, to a 100-person strong organization where “things just started to click.”

“It took a lot of hard work to get us where we are today,” he said. “We are well trained and ready to go.”

The Fort Riley Soldiers will assume the Gray Eagle mission from Company F, 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, in Regional Command-East in Afghanistan. The company is expected to be gone for nine months.

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