Reporting Heather Brown
FORT RIPLEY, Minn. (WCCO) – Minnesota National Guard Sgt. Charles Freese is looking at a simulation of a map of Baghdad on a computer screen in a brand-new building in Minnesota.
“Our mission here is just to fly along the route,” he said. “We’re looking for anything that looks suspicious. We’ve been tasked to basically make sure there aren’t any IEDs or unfriendly troops in the area.”
On Friday, the Minnesota National Guard opened a training facility for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or surveillance drones, at Camp Ripley.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, soldiers showed off their two UAVs – the five-pound Raven and the 475-pound Shadow. Both are equipped with cameras that are controlled from the ground. They have three Ravens and three Shadows at Camp Ripley. A Shadow costs about $1 million.
“If a troop’s on the ground and you want to see over the next hill or the next corner, you would take this out of a backpack and you would launch it by hand and you see what’s on the next hill or corner,” Sgt. Christopher Storkamp said.
The Raven can zoom up to four times and show clear video from up to 500 feet away. The Shadow can zoom up to 33 times and streams clear video up to 5,000 feet in the air.
There are only four or five facilities like this in the United States and the Minnesota National Guard hopes to eventually use it for guard troops from other Midwest states as well. Camp Ripley was chosen partly because of its size – 53,000 acres. Crews are only allowed to use the UAVs on base.
“It’s very helpful,” said Sgt. Freese. “It’s an extra set of eyes they don’t have.”