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​An MQ-1 taxis for takeoff from an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia for a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Air Force Magazine photo by Jennifer Hlad.

—By Jennifer Hlad

Undisclosed Location, Southwest Asia—The MQ-1 pilots of the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron fly every day in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, taking off and landing remotely piloted aircraft for missions piloted by operators in the US.

And previously, when the deployed pilots went home, they would only get two weeks off before they were back to flying missions. Now, because of a new scheduling configuration, these pilots will get about four months of training and deployment preparations when they get home, instead of returning to flying almost immediately.

“It gets tiring,” MQ-1 pilot 1st Lt. Matthew (The Air Force does not disclose the full name of RPA pilots.) told Air Force Magazine, describing the previous schedule as “being deployed, flying all day every day, to coming back home to flying the mission every day again.”

He volunteered for the new model because previously, it was very difficult to get time off, and constantly changing shifts was exhausting. Though the pilots were technically on a 5-1-2 schedule at home, which means they worked five days, were on recall one day, and then had two days off, they generally ended up working six days with two off. They also rotated shifts every six weeks, he said.

When he heard about the new configuration, Matthew said, “I threw my hat in the ring, because it was very hard to get time off before. You get to escape the shift work, which is like, everyone’s biggest gripe in our community.”

Now, he said, “we’re kind of trying to rotate it so when we’re home we have a home life now. So we deploy on a one-to-one ratio [four months deployed, four months at home, etc.], and that’s all we do now.”

Deploying for four months to be able to “come back home and have a break is worth it, in my opinion,” he said.

It helps that the group is “pretty tight-knit,” Matthew said. “It’s nice to be with people that you like.”

Plus, the unit has a “great mission,” said Lt. Col. Troy, commander of the 46th ERS.

“We’re leading the edge on the battlefield, and the guys are supporting that, so it’s very exciting for them,” he said. “They get very motivated, and the way that we’ve been able to push our flexibility has been pretty awesome.”