The Gray Eagle, an unmanned aircraft system, soon will be flying over Fort Stewart as the new unit trains for real-world missions in Afghanistan, according to Lt. Col. Alberto Garnica, 3rd Infantry Division G-3 operations officer-rear, and Chief Warrant Officer-4 Kelly Leonard, G-3 aviation-rear.
The new unit is part of the 3rd ID’s 3rd Aviation Brigade, which currently is deployed but based at Hunter Army Airfield. Garnica said construction is under way for the unit’s 100,000-square foot hanger facility on Fort Stewart. The 128-man company will include one officer, 11 warrant officers, and 118 enlisted soldiers. He added that about 25 percent of the enlisted soldiers are noncommissioned officers.
Leonard said the Gray Eagle can fly at a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet and can stay aloft for up to 24 hours. She said its camera system has the capability to distinguish between a farmer working in a field with a hoe and an insurgent crossing a field with a weapon.
“It has some incredible look-down capabilities,” she said, explaining she could not talk about the particular optics. “It can provide the ground commander the capability of distinguishing the good guys from the bad guys.”
Garnica said the UAS also can be equipped with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles to take out enemy targets with fewer risks for collateral damage. He emphasized, however, the system on Fort Stewart is for training only. When it’s set up and operational late this summer, it will not be unusual for members of the community to see a Gray Eagle taking off or landing from Wright Army Airfield or conducting a surveillance exercise by flying low over training areas on Fort Stewart.
“We have restricted airspace to work in,” Garnica explained, noting a UAS company can include up to 12 Gray Eagles. “It is possible that one of our UASs will be seen after we begin full training in September. The 3rd ID was only the fourth installation to get the system. We like to think the Army picked us because of our reputation for efficiency.”
Leonard said the soldiers assigned to the unit will hold one of two military occupational specialties, operator or maintainer of the UAS. Garnica said the soldiers receive their initial military-occupational specialties training at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., then will complete their training here. He said the UAS can be launched in Afghanistan and controlled by an operator here in the United States. However, he said this unit will deploy with 3rd ID units if called. He could not say the UAS unit’s soldiers were safer than soldiers of another military-occupational specialty, noting there are inherent risks with every combat mission.
Leonard talked about what she called “vast opportunities” for soldiers serving in a UAS military-occupational specialty, not only for promotion opportunities but for the opportunity to qualify for a warrant-officer position. She added the unit also has the stability of being part of an already-established aviation brigade.
Garnica said the 3rd ID ground commander now has this new system as part of his inventory of tools to see what’s out there and, if necessary, destroy it. He reiterated, though, that the primary role of the Gray Eagle is for surveillance.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “When we’re fully operational, it’ll generate some excitement here because the UAS has some great capabilities.”