Maintainers keep Gray Eagles in sky for Coalition
By Spc. Derrik Tribbey
AL ASAD, Iraq — The Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command -- Operation Inherent Resolve conducts aerial assault missions daily in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.
In order to maintain a high tactical advantage, the maintainers with Company D, 10th Aviation Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, service MQ-1C Gray Eagles, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), constantly and consistently.
"We keep these birds in the fight," said U.S. Army Spc. Tyler Lewis, a UAS maintainer with 10th Avn. Regt., 10th Mtn. Div. "We make sure we are doing things by the book and are following the steps."
The maintainers work 12-hour shifts to check and recheck the UASs on a constant 24-hour cycle, said U.S. Army Pfc. Joseph Thury, another UAS maintainer with 10th Avn. Regt., 10th Mtn. Div.
"In a moment's notice, we have to be ready to work and get them ready to fly," Lewis said.
Prior to each flight, the crew systematically goes through multiple checks to ensure each Gray Eagle is ready to fly.
"It's more in-depth than just servicing a car because it's an aircraft," said U.S. Army Pfc. Jashua Sisombath, another maintainer. "Instead of just closing up the hood we have to check and make sure there isn't anything that could prevent the aircraft from completing its mission."
Sisombath added they must be ready for anything, from something small, such as servicing a tire, to more in-depth maintenance, like swapping an engine.
Lewis said he likes the challenge of working on new systems, and the services to the unmanned systems are similar to manned vehicles.
"There are a lot more electronics, but it flies like any other plane," Lewis said. "The most challenging part is the unmanned part of it. There's no one in the cockpit telling you what is wrong."
The maintainers said they receive diagnostic updates from a message control panel they monitor which allows them to record changes and, if needed, troubleshoot any problems from the ground.
Sisombath said most people are in shock by the UAS's size.
"When someone says UAS they think about the small quad-copters," Sisombath said. "These have a 50-footwing span and are 15-feet tall."
Lewis added that there are many misconceptions about UASs. For example, some people refer to them as drones.
"Most people don't know that these are by definition not drones, drones are preprogrammed with a set location," Lewis said. "Unmanned vehicles are commanded from the ground."
When the UASs take off and land, Thury said he knows that a lot of hard work went into getting the systems to launch and return safely.
"I get a sense of pride knowing I helped on each mission," Thury said.
The unit is deployed to provide dedicated and consistent support to the Coalition to help the Government of Iraq defeat ISIS. CJTF-OIR is the global Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.