Story by Sgt. Daniel Santana, 2nd AAB, 1st Inf. Div., USD-C
BAGHDAD—Being a tanker in the U.S. Army comes with many challenges. Multi-tasking, fast thinking and effective communication are required to stay alive on the battlefield.
In Iraq, some tankers, like the Soldiers with 3rd platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, United States Division – Center, are helping U.S. and Iraqi forces stay alive from above the battlefield—with the aerostat blimp.
After graduating from one station unit training and arriving to a unit, tankers are immediately trained on new tasks and tactics to make them better Soldiers. A well-trained tanker likely knows not only tank operations, but also dismounted tactics, intelligence gathering and calling for fire. Soldiers with 3rd Platoon, Company C must know all that and more.
Upon arriving in Iraq, the platoon was immediately ordered to participate in a 30-day training program, with two weeks of classroom instruction and two weeks of on-the-job training to learn aerostat blimp operations, said Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Heath, platoon sergeant with Company C, 1st Bn., 63rd Armor Regt. and a Goldsboro, N.C., native.
The first day of classroom training included learning a lot of technical information. Soldiers learned the molecular structure and properties of helium, the light nonflammable element with sufficient lifting capabilities for an aerostat.
The aerostat blimp is used to conduct reconnaissance operations.
The classroom instruction was complex and difficult, but learning everything was essential for the mission’s success. When the Soldiers started doing the hands on training, it all began to make sense and the platoon started working as a cohesive team, Heath said.
“Learning the different capabilities of the aerostat and being proficient (in its operation) is a great feeling; knowing that we are the eyes in the sky to keep a lot of people safe,” said Pfc. Jason Schattschneider, with 1st Bn. 63rd Armor Regt. and a Jackson, Wis., native.
The Soldiers with 3rd platoon learned that there is much more to running an aerostat than just filling a balloon with helium and launching it into the air. Many factors—which the operators must monitor—can cause it to fall from the sky or become damaged.
Occasionally the aerostat must be brought down and moored, which has potential to become a difficult operation and only an expert crew can moor the aerostat safely.
Despite these challenges, the Soldiers with 3rd Platoon, Company C, 1st Bn., 63rd Armor Regt. have kept the blimp flying and providing security for U.S. and Iraqi forces operating in the area.