Brains, Tenacity, and a Passion for Aviation

Specialist Joey Patton with a Shadow 200 unmanned aerial vehicle

SPC Joey Patton with a Shadow 200 unmanned aerial vehicle

Specialist Joey Patton yawns and turns off the alarm, ready to begin his morning routine. A short time later, he reports to the Detachment 1, A Company, 30th Brigade Special Troops Battalion ground station at Fort Bragg, NC, where his first order of the day is emplacing, which is military-speak for setting up equipment.

His commanders then provide him with a mission brief on his duty responsibilities. Today, he’s on an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) mission to collect the data required for the ground troops to advance their position.

As a 15W Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Operator, SPC Patton will fly this mission as the aircraft operator (AO). Yesterday during drills, he honed his skills as the payload operator (PO) capturing intelligence through the UAV’s camera system. While this aircraft is primarily built for ISR, some UAV systems are capable of strike missions, suppression or destruction of enemy air defense, electronic attack, as well as combat search and rescue, depending on the vehicle being flown.

Now thoroughly briefed on the mission, SPC Patton goes through his pre-flights and launches the 12-foot-long by 14-foot-wide aircraft. At the conclusion of the mission, he lands the vehicle and then debriefs with his commanders on the flight’s success factors and areas that need improvement.

On orders as a full-time member of the Army National Guard, SPC Patton and others in his unit fly these drills at Ft. Bragg to keep their skills mission-qualified. In fact, he is the Unit Trainer in charge of his platoon’s ongoing UAV training requirements.

He originally joined the National Guard in November 2009 to help pay for college. At the time, he was studying culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte.

“I was raised in the Army. My parents were both Warrant Officers. I chose to go Guard because the education benefits are better – you can get both State and Federal assistance – and because I was already enrolled in college and wanted to stay there.”

When SPC Patton met with his Recruiter, they talked about his lifelong interest in aviation.

“That’s when he told me about UAV. I knew right away it was perfect. It involved new and upcoming technology, and it gave me the ability to learn aviation as an enlisted Soldier – I didn’t have to go the officer route right away. 15W is the only MOS that offers flight training at the enlisted level.”

The decision changed the course of SPC Patton’s future.

First, he traveled to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, for 10 weeks of Basic Combat Training (where he earned an Army Achievement Medal) and 23 weeks of Advanced Individual Training (AIT).

He returned to Fort Bragg but was not called for deployment. So, SPC Patton decided to take a break from college and accept a year-long position with a civilian government contractor to get the overseas field experience he craved.

“UAV is one of the most rapidly growing fields in the economy right now. You can work for defense contractors, homeland security, law enforcement – it’s not just for fighting a war.”

Now that he’s back in the States, SPC Patton continues to mold his dual life as a Citizen-Soldier®.  He’s returning to college, this time as a political science major with a long-term goal of attending law school. He’s also thinking about “submitting a flight packet” to go to Fort Rucker in Alabama and learn how to fly Apache helicopters.

Overall, SPC Patton recommends 15W to anyone looking to fast track their way to a career in aviation.

“It (15W AIT) includes FAA ground school, so you just have to get your hours on an aircraft to get a private pilot’s license.”

He stresses, however, that being a UAV Operator demands a larger Guard commitment and is not for the faint of heart.

“This MOS requires more than the minimum ‘one weekend per month, two weeks per year’ time commitment. You’re working in a very important position, with a very expensive system. You need tenacity to do it.”

And brains, apparently. “There are six thick regulation manuals dedicated to UAV Operators, and two of them you have to know by heart.”

If you have brains, tenacity, and a passion for aviation, visit the Army National Guard jobs board and contact a Recruiter today.

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Sky’s the Limit

Learn how this Army National Guard Soldier became a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilot and why he says, “I can’t think of a cooler job to have, and I actually get paid to do it.”

The versatile Black Hawk flies many different missions, including troop transport, air assault, and medical evacuations. Plus, it supports ground troops by gathering enemy data and delivering firepower from above.

If you dream about being a helicopter pilot one day, visit the National Guard jobs board and contact your Army National Guard Recruiter today.


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Cooking Toward the Future


Some would say growing up among difficult circumstances limits your choices in life. Sergeant Nicole Ball of the Missouri Army National Guard would disagree. She’d do it nicely, but she’d still disagree because she knows it’s no excuse to fail.

portrait of Army National Guard SGT Nicole Ball

SGT Nicole Ball

“I grew up in a family that struggled,” SGT Ball said. “There were times when we had to [go without]. But I always stayed busy. I was part of school clubs, or part of dance teams and other activities. I used to babysit four or five kids at a time, and I helped take care of my brother who has special needs.”

So when it came time to plan for life after high school, she wasted no time. She signed up for the Army National Guard even before she graduated.

“When you come up the way I did, the Guard is a chance to get away, a chance to see other things. It’s a chance to improve yourself and your situation.”

Plus, for SGT Ball, choosing the Guard meant carrying on a family tradition.

“Both my parents served in the Army and then switched to the National Guard,” SGT Ball said.

True to form, she selected a military occupation specialty (MOS) that would keep her pretty busy. Today, she’s a Food Service Specialist and a pretty good one at that.

“I love my MOS because I love being in the kitchen, and it’s something you can always use,” SGT Ball said, “I even get to practice at home.”

Indeed, contrary to popular opinion, there’s quite a bit of flexibility allowed in a Guard kitchen. And according to SGT Ball, cooking in bulk is easier than cooking in smaller individual portions.

“Our training teaches us to cook from scratch, so I get to dress it up a bit. My [military supervisor] always said, ‘Just make it, and make it taste good,’” she said. “I may be weird, but I like to put love into my food.”

As much as she loves preparing food, she loves the people aspect of her duties that much more. As a Food Service Specialist, she also gets to serve up the food. And SGT Ball makes it a point to talk to each and every Soldier coming through the line.

“When I joined, I wanted to meet new people and make new friends,” she said. “Now I know everyone. I know their kids. I know people from the other units. Those relationships are so positive.”

She was such a natural at her MOS that her supervisor, SSG Robert Volkmer, has given her more and more responsibilities.

“I can’t give SSG Volkmer enough thanks. He’s like a surrogate father to me,” SGT Ball said. “When I got in, I didn’t know anything about foodstuffs. He taught me everything and trusted me to do it.”

Over six years of service, he taught her how to cook. He taught her how to run a kitchen. He taught her about the paperwork necessary for that kitchen to work properly. And he taught her how to train other Soldiers in those disciplines.

He taught her so well that SGT Ball became the youngest non-commissioned officer in the unit.  Maybe.

“I’m not sure if that’s exactly true,” she said with a laugh, “but that’s what I was told.”

While SGT Ball was learning how to cook and run a kitchen, she was also taking advantage of the National Guard’s education benefits to earn a double major in elementary education and special education. She even spent two years in ROTC at the top of her class.

“Teaching is a higher calling,” she said. “I want to be a special ed teacher.”

SGT Ball is looking to take the next step in her civilian career by assisting a speech pathologist in working with people with permanent and temporary disabilities.

If you have a plan for your future and would like to know how Guard training and education benefits can help, visit the Army National Guard jobs board and contact a Recruiter today.

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