Arizona Guard element takes on volunteer mission providing unique training for MQ-9 maintainers

Legitimate cowboys — spurs and all — can be spotted en route to Sierra Vista, a tiny border town that hosts the U.S. Army’s Fort Huachuca. At the end of the little-known Libby Army Airfield at Fort Huachuca, hides an even lesser-known entity — the 214th Launch and Recovery Element (214 LRE).

A gutted and disassembled MQ-9 Reaper sits in a hangar at Libby Army Airfield in Ft. Huachuca, Ariz. The aircraft awaits reassembly by 214 LRE Avionics Technicians in support of the active duty Air Force as a Systems Integration Lab (SIL), providing a unique training opportunity for the maintenance personnel Air Force-wide who work on the Reaper aircraft.

Although located at Libby Army Airfield, the 214th LRE is a subset of the 214th Attack Group, which is based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., but belongs to the 162nd Wing at Morris Air National Guard Base, Ariz., which is adjacent to the Tucson International Airport. The locations and stratification of the units are just as multifaceted as the missions.

“Our main mission is armed ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance],” said Col. Brian Grasky, 214th ATKG commander. “We do close-air support along with the A-10 [Thunderbolt II] and interdiction, around the globe, 24/7,” he said.

The LRE’s full-time mission, however, is the launch and recovery at Libby Army Airfield of the MQ-9 Reaper that is piloted from DM. But the LRE has stepped up to take on an additional and truly exclusive mission to support the active duty Air Force as a Systems Integration Lab (SIL), providing a unique training opportunity for the maintenance personnel Air Force-wide who work on the Reaper aircraft.

“We’re calling the project ‘SIL to Hill’ because we’re disassembling the entire interior of the SIL aircraft and sending it to Hill Air Force Base [Ogden, Utah],” said Master Sgt. Sam Roberts, 214 LRE Production Superintendent.

The disassembly and reassembly processes are a large part of the uniqueness of this mission because these local Guardsmen have the distinctive opportunity to take apart and reattach the complex and intertwined systems. Like most aircraft, the Air Force receives the Reapers from a contractor intact. Maintenance is traditionally completed by specialty according to the needs of the aircraft. For example, avionics technicians repair the avionics equipment while electrical personnel work on the aircraft electrical systems.

Staff Sgt. Paul Robledo Garcia, a 214 LRE Avionics Technician here, is one of the first Air National Guard and Air Force maintainers to completely dis- and reassemble the MQ-9 Reaper.

“Just seeing how the components and wiring is routed will be beneficial in the long run,” said Staff Sgt. Paul Robledo Garcia, a 214th LRE Avionics Technician here. “We have a training opportunity here that nobody else in the Air Force has seen before,” he said.

The LRE’s usual launch and recovery mission provides continuation training for active duty and National Guard Mission Combat Elements, which pilot the MQ-9 aircraft. The SIL volunteer mission allows for a new training opportunity that cannot be replicated,” said Master Sgt. Roberts. “We took this on as an additional duty to help out our active duty counterparts while providing the highest caliber training opportunity for our local Guardsmen,” he said.

With launch and recovery elements of the MQ-9 Reaper at Libby Army Airfield in Fort Huachuca, the RC-26 Condor at Tucson International Airport, combat operations on the other side of the globe, and operations at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, the 214th ATKG and its remotely piloted aircraft have the ability to provide full-motion video to support ISR operations down range. From tactical to humanitarian, the 214th ATKG protects and defends by any means necessary.

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