Jenny Laird helps establish USACE UAS training program at Hinds Community College

In conjunction with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) Graduate Institute, Jenny Laird, the UAS lead for the ERDC’s Environmental Laboratory (EL), established the USACE UAS training program at Hinds Community College in Raymond, Mississippi.

As UAS technology became more advanced and affordable over the last few years, the USACE began using the technology in new and innovative ways, but the USACE UAS program had no unified standard, making adoption of the technology throughout the organization “disorganized and decentralized.”

Just one year into his position as the aviation program manager at USACE headquarters, Jason Kirkpatrick advised the Army Chief of Staff that the USACE UAS program was at high risk, primarily for training.

“The foundation of any well-run technology program is the establishment of good standards, training and oversight,” Kirkpatrick said during his annual statement of assurance. “And training was the challenge.”

USACE and Army leadership wanted to ensure UAS training was executed in a “stepwise professional manner,” so they focused on how the USACE was going to use the technology while keeping in mind public concerns and cyber security challenges.

“USACE is a federal enterprise so it should have standards and a culture of safety and risk management that exceed that of a private individual who might operate these systems,” Kirkpatrick says. “We have a responsibility to the public to get trained. Safety, privacy and security training is our due diligence to earn public trust in our operations of these systems.

“With the training program Jenny established with Hinds Community College, she accelerated the USACE UAS program by over a year. It was remarkable that we were able to get that Hinds training program stood up – I can’t overstate what it did for the USACE UAS program.”

Utilizing the already existing partnership between the ERDC Graduate Institute and Hinds Community College, USACE employees can sign up for training directly through the institute, Kirkpatrick notes, which eliminates billing issues and reduces administrative burdens. The training is outsourced, but Laird met personally with instructors to ensure USACE standards were communicated and observed in the training.

“The ERDC and Hinds Community College have had an Educational Partnership Agreement,  since 2017, specific to UAS research and development,” Laird says. “Hinds and the ERDC UAS program have been working together to create a certification program for UAS since April 2017. So far, 16 persons have completed the primary flight training and 100 have completed the Part 107 training since November 2018.”

The idea to partner with Hinds for UAS training first started in 2016 with Laird’s former supervisor, Buddy Goatcher, who knew the former Hinds UAS instructor, Dennis Lott. According to Laird, Lott taught the Part 107 classes, which are currently taught by John (Jay) Eads.

“Hinds Community College had the only UAS program in Mississippi at the time. A few graduates from the UAS program were hired at ERDC, which helped spread the word about this innovative program,” says Dr. Chad Stocks, vice president of workforce, career-technical and adult education at Hinds Community College. Dr. Stock also manages the Hinds team that coordinates and delivers the UAS training for ERDC.

“ERDC management approached the Hinds executive team about delivering a customized, non-credit Remote Pilot Certificate (Part 107) training to build a pipeline of UAS pilots and operators for USACE because the college had experience collaborating with the Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center on delivering training for Army Guard and Reserve unmanned aircraft operators from across the country.”

Cmdr. Thomas Janisko, command surgeon for the USACE, completed the USACE UAS training program at Hinds in Nov. 2018.

“It was a great program,” Cmdr Janisko says. “The entire Hinds staff were professional, knowledgeable and invested in your success as a student. I had two instructors that had a high level of expertise about small UAS operations and aviation — they were top notch.”

Below: ​Employees from across the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers attend the USACE unmanned aerial systems training course at Hinds Community College in Raymond, Mississippi. The training program has been extremely beneficial to the USACE Aviation Program. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo)