This piece was circulated today on the Gunner net. BZ Bird Gunners!
By Petty Officer 2nd Bradley Breland
A warship in the middle of the ocean is not an obvious place to find four gunners - that is, soldiers of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery. If you look closely at a photo of the crew of HMCS Regina, however, in among the sailors' naval combat uniforms you will see the green CADPAT and unit identifiers of four members of 128 Air Defence Battery, 4th Air Defence Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, from Gagetown, New Brunswick. As members of the second UAV troop to go to sea, the gunners joined HMCS Regina in July 2012 for her deployment to the Arabian Sea on Rotation 1 of Operation ARTEMIS. The first ship-borne UAV deployed in late 2011 with HMCS Charlottetown, which completed Operation METRIC in the Mediterranean Sea before moving to the Arabian Sea in April 2012 for the initial rotation of Operation ARTEMIS.
As part of HMCS Regina's Air Department, Sergeant Pete Sova, Bombardier Levi Sheppard, Bdr Kendall Hartjes and Bdr Justin Kovacs operate the ship's ScanEagle UAV, working with the crews of the CH-124 Sea King helicopter to provide aerial surveillance and reconnaissance of the ship's area of responsibility.
The soldiers didn't take long to realize that life at sea was vastly different from training in Gagetown and operations in Afghanistan. "Before joining Regina, I had never even seen a ship!", said Bdr Kovacs, the most junior member of the UAV team, who is on his first operational deployment. "There's a lot of terminology to learn." "There are a lot of strange traditions in the Royal Canadian Navy, and it is a very different environment from what we're used to" said Bdr Sheppard, "but the Navy has been extremely accommodating to us and there has been a smooth amalgamation of the three elements on board: Army, Navy and Air Force." Bdr Hartjes, a quiet, experienced soldier, said that although life at sea is a big change from their traditional operating environment, "the ports are great, especially Hawaii."
Although their uniforms are green, their faces are not. All three soldiers are proud to point out that they haven't been seasick. "Well, not yet," said Bdr Sheppard.
The gunners' previous experience was entirely land-based, so integrating the UAV into the ship's operations presented them with some major challenges. In comparison with operations in Afghanistan, said Sgt Sova, "the challenges we face are similar in a sense that there will always be different variables, such as the objectives of the mission. However at sea, there are many additional variables. Given that we don't remain in place at any time, this changes the parameters in which we employ the UAV - be it weather, sea state, or international water regulations. The UAV team has not only overcome these challenges, but has demonstrated that professional skill, coupled with years of operational experience, will provide an invaluable asset to the ships operational spectrum."
With soldiers in the UAV troop, airmen and airwomen in the helicopter detachment and - of course - the sailors of the rest of the ship's company, HMCS Regina is a truly joint Canadian Forces contribution in a maritime theatre of operations. As only the second UAV troop to deploy in a Canadian warship, Sgt Sova and his team continue the work of developing effective procedures and tactics for maritime employment of the ScanEagle UAV. Excited about future opportunities, Bdr Sheppard said, "We contribute in a huge way, we bring a whole new asset to the ball game!" The significance of their contribution was not lost on Bdr Kovacs. "They don't even know we're looking at them," he said. "The integration is good to see. We're learning about the Air Force and the Navy." With every flight, the UAV troop demonstrates its effectiveness and importance to the ship's mission. "I am extremely proud of this team of UAV operators," said Sgt Sova. "I am proud of their families for their support, and most importantly, proud to be here with them."
Bdr Hartjes has advice for gunners who might volunteer for future tours. "If you're interested in trying something completely different from what you're used to, give it a try," he said.
PO2 Bradley Breland is the Sonar Control Supervisor aboard HMCS Regina
Edit to add link to story in Regina Leader-Post: http://www.leaderpost.com/HMCS+Regina+home+after+completing+five+month+mission/7847777/story.html