CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
Marine Corps unmanned aerial vehicles have a new home at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.
Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3 formed a new detachment located here to help 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support in southwestern Afghanistan.
The new detachment became fully operational when it launched its first unmanned aerial vehicle from Camp Leatherneck, an RQ-7B Shadow in support of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, June 30.
Video: Click here to watch VMU-3 Marines test the RQ-7B Shadow UAV at Camp Leatherneck.
The unmanned aerial vehicle squadron began planning for a detachment at Camp Leatherneck prior to its deployment from Twentynine Palms, Calif., explained Maj. Matt L. Walker, the officer in charge of VMU-3 Marines at Camp Leatherneck.
Deployed Marine unmanned aerial vehicle squadrons have traditionally maintained multiple operating points for UAVs, including Camp Dwyer, Combat Outpost Payne, and Forward Operating Bases Edinburgh and Delaram II.
“The squadron took a look at where our UAVs were going to be positioned, and the area we were capable of flying missions over before we deployed to Afghanistan, and saw that we had some uncovered areas,” said Walker.“We thought about how we could better position ourselves to support ground troops. When the advance party of VMU-3 Marines deployed to Afghanistan the idea of having a second detachment located at Leatherneck was presented to 2nd MAW (Fwd.)”
The proposal to 2nd MAW (Fwd.) was approved, and within a month the squadron was set up and fully operational on Camp Leatherneck, Walker said.
“A portion of the decision to set up a detachment at Camp Leatherneck was preparation for the summer fighting season,” he said. “We can better support dismounted patrols and we can help protect the troops on the ground.
“We will do everything we can to give those Marines on the ground the coverage and eye in the sky they need,” Walker added.
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.
“We are in the best position to support Marines on the deck across Regional Command Southwest, which is what this is all about,” said Walker. “This move just gives us greater flexibility with the area we can fly over.”
“I think this move was a great idea,” said Cpl. Ryan P. Pavin, an unmanned aerial vehicle operator with VMU-3, and a native of Chicago. “I knew at first it would be a lot of work to get set up but I think we can do a lot to help the Marines on the ground and get the information they need.”
In preparation for the UAV squadron’s move, engineers and heavy equipment operators with Marine Wing Support Squadron 272 leveled and flattened the ground for the new VMU-3 runway, and MWSS-272 expeditionary airfield Marines followed behind, laying down aluminum matting used as the UAV landing strip.
“It took the engineers approximately 10 days to do the ground work,” said Staff Sgt. Cory D. Sikes the expeditionary airfields chief for MWSS-272, and a native of Holdrege, Neb. “It took us seven days to lay the matting, and we completed it all well under our estimated completion date.”
MWSS-272, deployed out of Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., supports 2nd MAW (Fwd.) through ground refueling, aircraft recovery, firefighting, expeditionary airfield services and more.
“MWSS-272 had a huge part in helping us get set up here in the new location,” said Walker. “Without them none of this would have happened.”
Not only did MWSS-272 prepare the VMU-3 runway and operations area, the support squadron also convoyed to Camp Dwyer to pick up the new detachment’s equipment and transport it to Camp Leatherneck.
“The convoy was completed on a very short timeline,” said Gunnery Sgt. Donald Rogers, the MWSS-272 operations chief, and native of Mauston, Wis. “We loaded all of their gear they would need for operations and delivered it to the new compound on Camp Leatherneck.”
“Within three days, we had UAVs in the air, doing test flights and our working areas constructed,” said Walker. “The speed the MWSS had in completing its mission made our mission easier.”
For the UAVs themselves, the squadron convoyed some of the aircraft, and flew others from Camp Dwyer to their new home at Camp Leatherneck.
“VMU-3 has proven that the Shadow is expeditionary,” said Walker. “We’ve proven that we can move about the battlespace if we need to, quickly and efficiently.”