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.