I remember the day I walked into the Army recruiting station, not really having a sense of what I wanted to do, but nonetheless – I knew that I at least wanted to serve. I completed my ASVAB (the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) and, thanks to a relatively high score, was able to select from a wide range of potential job selections. When I reviewed my results with my recruiter, he was surprised to see the job code, “15W” appear as a selection. He asked me, “So do you like playing video games?” What 16-year-old guy doesn’t like playing video games? “That’s basically what you would be doing as a drone pilot, pretty cool huh?”
Looking back, the decision to move forward as a drone pilot for the Army would be life altering and would give me the keys to so many doorways. I can remember the day I first stood before the drone I would eventually fly for the Army. It had taken 9 months of training before I even got the chance to physically see my designated airframe – it would take an additional 6 months of training before I would become certified to independently operate it. My aircraft was the MQ-5B, its nickname, the “Hunter.” It had been and still continues to be the Army’s workhorse. Even though it has recently been retired from the Army’s official UAV fleet, the aircraft still continues to operate today, on a nearly 24/7 basis via contracting forces overseas.
Within a couple of months of arriving at my first duty station at Fort Hood, Texas – the option to deploy overseas to Iraq came up, and without hesitation, I elected to go. It had been my dream to serve my country and what better way than to support the U.S. mission in Iraq? While being away from my pregnant wife was extremely difficult – my time deployed in the military was the most invigorating and enjoyable part of my Army experience. I got to fly the Hunter around the clock, seeking to find the enemy, gather intelligence, and seek out IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Our missions would give us a strategic edge and keep our ground troops safe.
After just one month of being deployed as a UAV operator, I was promoted to the position of Mission Coordinator, and got the opportunity to be the logistical and collaborative lead on mission assignments. The deployed drone environment is one that is impossible to replicate elsewhere, which is why, after having been out of the Army for almost 2 years, I decided to go back overseas to fly the Hunter, only this time – as a civilian contractor.
For 12 months, I continued to fly and coordinate missions with the Hunter. Those 12 months were very busy and flew by much faster than I had anticipated. There are many times, even to this day, that I yearn to go back and be a part of the brotherhood unit that was formed there. At the end of the day, the best part of my drone journey thus far has undoubtedly been the relationships I have been able to forge along the way.
My time as a military and contractor UAV pilot would lay the foundation for the drone career I am building today. Now I have the pleasure of using my past skills and experience in the civilian drone sector, and more specifically, as a subject matter expert on drone safety and regulatory compliance protocols. I am thrilled to be a part of Consortiq, an organization that is leading an industry shift and changing the way the world looks at drones and drone pilots.
Did I ever think I’d be able to have a career that was all about drones? Absolutely not. But with technology progressing as fast as it is today, who knows what else drones will be able to do and how they will be used in the future.