Eye in the Sky

An EHS Alum Shares His Experiences With the Army National Guard
Georgios Boleros 20 (left) and a colleague stand next to their aircraft.
Georgios Boleros ’20 (left) and a colleague stand next to their aircraft.

Following his graduation from EHS, Georgios Boleros ‘20 went on to enlist in the Army National Guard while attending Middlesex County College. Eagle’s Eye editor Prabha Krishna interviewed the military drone pilot before his January deployment to Syria. 

EE: Can you describe your experience in analyzing drone footage and providing observations? What specific tools or software have you used in your role?

GB: So, the system we use is the RQ-27B, nicknamed the “Shadow”. It’s kind of like a mid-size drone. We 100% focus on surveillance. There are capabilities on the system to take control of a missile but we don’t hold explosives on the drone. So, for the most part, we’re just standalone for surveillance purposes. 

EE: How did you get into this role?

GB: It’s actually funny because I had no intention of joining the military. I was kind of like “Yeah I don’t wanna do that.” But, my dad’s friend—one of his work buddies and a recruiter at the time—told me “Y’know my nephew just got a really good job. You come in and we’ll help you out. It’s 100% free college.” I was like “Damn, that sounds nice,” because I didn’t know how I was paying for college at the time. So I went there, and I was originally supposed to be an Intel analyst, but he called me last minute and was like “Yo, do you wanna fly drones” and I was like “Yeah, that sounds awesome.” So, it was all a stroke of luck, but it’s really cool that I even have this opportunity.

The army has been very good to me, and if you do it right, you can make a lot of money in the army and take advantage of the benefits.

— Georgios Boleros ‘20

EE: In your previous assignments, how have you ensured accuracy and attention to detail in your observations? Can you provide an example of a situation when your observation skills had a significant impact on a mission/decision making?

GB: So I haven’t done a lot of hands-on work. We’ve done a little bit but not operational—that’s gonna be more down in Syria. For example, say we have a mission with a convoy, which is a really common one. We have eyes in the sky, so we can see a lot farther than the convoy can see. The biggest thing we would want to look for is the serb ground, because the serb ground is an indicator of IEDS, or explosives in the area. The capabilities of the camera are cool. We have IR, which is infrared, so we can activate that and we can see different heat signatures on the ground. So, if someone dug up the ground, and maybe buried something there, the ground’s gonna be hot, because you’ve taken the soil and disturbed it. Another big thing is checking rooftops. If someone’s acting funny, there’s a lot of indicators like having IEDs on their body that we learn about. It’s really important to pay attention to those people and see what’s out of place. You always want to be able to relay that information to the people on the ground, because they have no idea what’s going on. They’re relying solely on your eyes. As for programs used, the system is pre-programmed, and it’s a linux based software called “Blackcat.” And that same software can be used for another bigger drone called the “Grey Eagle,” which is more similar to those you see on the news.

EE: In the rapidly evolving field of drone technology, how do you stay updated on the latest advancements and integrate them into your analysis process? Can you provide an example of a situation where staying abreast of technological developments improved the quality or efficiency of your observations?

GB: It’s actually pretty crazy because we are already moving onto a new system pretty soon– probably in the next year or two. The army is going to completely phase out the drones that I’m using. Then, I will have to go for a field training course to learn how to fly a whole new system. Our drone right now is good, but it’s also old with a lot of moving parts that don’t make it very practical. With the new system, you can cut 30, 40, maybe even an hour off the prep time it takes to get a drone in the air and get it to units that really need them. Plus, every year we have a certain amount of requirements we have to meet. You have to stay up on your readiness level, and if you drop out of it, you are no longer certified to fly on your own. To do so, we have to make a certain number of hours every year in takeoffs, landings, and pretty much all your major stuff that certifies the fact that you are competent in your ability to fly, communicate, and do your job.

EE: Collaboration is key in military operations. How do you coordinate with other team members, such as drone operators or intelligence analysts, to enhance the overall effectiveness of the mission? Can you share a specific instance where effective collaboration contributed to mission success?

GB: Mission coordination is a really big thing we focus on. We have to take class every year just to reinforce the fact that we are a team. If the drone goes down, it’s whoever was on that flight’s fault. It’s important that we all work together to reach the same goal. Say I’m setting up and putting everything in my AL and PL aircraft. The payload operator is going to be making sure we are good to fly. We work with other assets, so we are not wasting time.  

There’s another job in the guard called geostate that focuses on a lot of identification, even though it’s our job to do identification as well. We’re mainly to work with them, so they can relay our information on a big tactical map. There’s different labeling for everything, like “Oh cool there’s 5 tanks over here, put this on the map, and we can relay this information to troops on the ground,” so it all works pretty much in conjunction with each other so that you don’t have mismatched information and unknown information.

The biggest thing that I took away from high school was the idea of having pride and confidence in whatever you do.

— Georgios Boleros ‘20

EE: How do you balance your time with your work and also being a full time student?

GB: Yes, it can get very tough. I’ve been on multiple missions. I can tell you, at the time of Covid, I was a nursing assistant for a little bit in the army, and I had to work at a veterans home in Edison. At that time, I was taking 4 classes and 1 accelerated at college while working a normal 8 hour job. It was really tough, but the biggest thing to do with balancing time is to write everything out. You want to know what goals you have in mind, like what you want out of your life. Of course it’s going to be a little bit of a sacrifice. For me, it was always that I needed to have Saturday and Sunday off no matter what during the week. Even on my lunch break, if i had time, I was still doing some online school—knock out some school, knock out some homework, if i can study for a test that’s coming up and if time allowed it, I would like to have everything done on Friday. This way, when I get home, I can just relax and have the weekend to completely destress. A lot of people forget to make time for themselves, and they get burnt out very fast. When you get burnt out, it affects your performance. For me, it was tough because I had to be pretty strict with my schedule, especially when I wanted to slack off, but I knew that I would create more work and feel bad anxiety and stress.

EE: What did a typical day in your life look like for you and what does it look like now?

GB: As a national guard part-time soldier, I only work 2 to 3 times a month so for the rest of my time, I can do whatever. I want to go to college, and nothing changes except that you are in the military and those 2-3 days a month you go into work. Now if you get activated, you will be working everyday. As of right now, I’m just kind of spending a lot of time at home. I took a break from college this semester to spend time with my family, as I’m going to Syria for a year.

EE: What are your future career plans? Do you see yourself working in the army for a while or going into something else?

GB: I’ll probably end up going into something else. The army has been very good to me, and if you do it right, you can make a lot of money in the army and take advantage of the benefits. 

For me, I don’t owe a single penny at all. I’ve actually made money going to college because they essentially paid me to go. I make $3,500 per month just to go to college, so it’s a pretty good deal, but it’s not for everybody. It’s a big sacrifice: initially, I had to give a lot with training for 8-9 months. I don’t see myself personally making a career out of it.

I got my training, I got my degree, I also have a secret clearance which allows me to work for other bigger agencies, so I’m going to work for homeland security for the prosecutor’s office in Edison.

EE: Who were some of your biggest influences in high school and how did their influence affect your life and or work?

GB: I want to say all of my senior teachers were pretty much up there. The biggest thing that I took away from high school was the idea of having pride and confidence in whatever you do, so even when things were tough and even when I felt like maybe I’m not smart enough for this, I knew that these thoughts would only hinder me and if I try to put in the work, I would become better. Especially English, which is what I always struggled with and I couldn’t read until I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade in summer school—having great teachers is what really influenced me a lot in my everyday life.

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