The air is hot and stuffy inside the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) ground control trailer at FOB Masum Ghar, located in the heart of southern Afghanistan. Two soldiers from the 205th Military Intelligence Company deftly pilot their unmanned aerial vehicle over the wastes of the Panjwai District searching for targets, while Brigade Sgt. Maj. Steve Knott vigilantly watches over their shoulders.
The tension lining the men’s faces is a visible reminder of how stressful their three-month tour has been. The UAV crew has been tasked with overwatching a company of infantry, silently moving through the fields and grape-rows surrounding a high value target compound and preparing for their assault. In the trailer, Knott is straining his eyes, looking for anything out of the ordinary, no easy task given the grainy resolution of the screens.
Suddenly the sergeant major leans forward and jubilantly shouts, “Right there!” before jabbing his finger at the screen. The air is electric with excitement, and the pilots deftly reorient the drone’s cameras to focus on their prey.
Thousands of feet below the aircraft, the image clears to reveal Private First Class Todd Armstrong. The soldier is struggling to climb over a low wall that had just been cleared for IEDs, pulling security with his M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW), and simultaneously maintaining a low silhouette while carrying almost 70 lbs of gear.
The soldier’s boots are unbloused. Additionally, it appears that one of the sleeves on his combat uniform was rolled to allow better access to his wrist-mounted GPS.
Knott smiles a wolfish grin and sprints out of the trailer into the main BDE Tactical Operations Center, grabbing a hand-mic from the nearest radio operator and declaring, “We got another one!”
After calling the company commander on the ground and ordering him to halt his men in place, the sergeant major begins a hasty lecture about uniform standards and the dangers of improper supervision by leaders. He also tells his UAV operators to swoop even lower in their search for infractions.
Approximately 15 minutes into the sergeant major’s tirade, as the aircraft continues to buzz loudly over the stalled infantry, the unit commander interrupts the transmission to report that they had been compromised and were currently receiving heavy small arms and RPG fire.
“Roger, understand ‘troops in contact,'” Knott tells the commander. “But let me just add that you need to inspect your soldiers better prior to going on patrol.”
As multiple medical evacuation requests began to flood the radios, Knott leaves his post to wait at the landing zone for the incoming wounded to ensure they are still wearing the proper protective gear.
The firefight lasted mere hours, but the Battle Damage Assessment (BDA) included four Field Grade Article 15’s, two Letters of Reprimand, and seventeen counseling statements. When the weary Soldiers finally returned to base, they were directed to immediately stand in a formation where Sgt. Maj. Knott received the Army Achievement Medal for his action during combat.