CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan --
Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3, established in 2008, is one of the youngest squadrons in the Marine Corps, but its Marines are not without experience.
A gunnery sergeant currently deployed to Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, with VMU-3 has served the unmanned aerial vehicle community throughout her entire enlistment of nearly 17 years.
Lilia A. Garcia oversees all RQ-7B Shadow UAV mechanical and launching operations for the squadron. The Mission, Texas, native joined the Marine Corps in 1995 as an unmanned aerial vehicle technician.
“I’ve known Garcia since 1997,” said Gunnery Sgt. Charles D. Carter, the VMU-3 maintenance control chief, and a native of Newport News, Va. “She is the kind of Marine who is focused like a laser beam on getting the mission accomplished.”
Even though many Marines physically tower over the short-statured Texan, there is firmness in Garcia’s soft words. She rarely raises her voice when addressing her troops, likely attributable to the knowledge she carries after nearly two decades in the UAV community.
“She works longer hours than everyone else in the maintenance department does just so she is available to all of her Marines,” said Carter. “I have developed an incredible respect for her abilities.”
“Working with the junior Marines is one of my favorite parts of my job,” said Garcia. “When the Marines are out doing their jobs, whether it’s launching or controlling the aircraft, I know I’ve done my part. My junior Marines have a lot of potential, and they work very hard.”
When Garcia entered the Marine Corps unmanned aerial vehicle community, she said UAVs had recently formed into self-sustaining aviation squadrons. Previously, the unmanned aerial vehicles were directly attached to the ground units they now support.
“We became a very valuable asset because we were able to use our aircraft to watch over ground troops,” said Garcia. “For the squadron, it is just important that we do our part.”
Deployed Marine Corps UAV squadrons use small, lightweight vehicles that are able to stay in the air for several hours to supply Marines and their coalition partners with aerial information throughout combat missions.
Garcia has deployed seven times to locations all over the world. In 2003, when the United States and its coalition partners began Operation Iraqi Freedom, Garcia said Marine Corps unmanned aerial vehicle squadrons adopted a heavy deployment schedule.
“We would deploy for seven months and come back for five months and then deploy again,” Garcia said. “Because of that deployment tempo the Marine Corps created VMU-3 to try and slow down the deployment rate. It took several years but it has helped.”
Garcia and the other Marines of VMU-3 currently call Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., home. The squadron arrived in Afghanistan in May for its second ever deployment in support of the NATO International Security Assistance Force.
“When I joined the Marine Corps 16 years ago I didn’t think I was going to stay in,” said Garcia. “I love what I do, though, and that’s what has kept me in.”