Marine convoy commander says unmanned aerial vehicles saved his life in Afghanistan

10 Oct 2011 | Cpl. Justin M. Boling

 “Mission after mission we were exposed to a barrage of small arms fire, medium machine gun, heavy machine gun and sniper fire in addition to [roadside bombs]and [rocket and mortar attacks],” wrote 1st Lt. Marcos Garcia in a letter to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3. “We were forced to take similar routes due to their trafficability and the enemy exploited this.”

Garcia served as a convoy commander with 2nd Marine Logistics Group in Helmand province, Afghanistan for seven months. According to his letter, his convoy suffered eight IED strikes, three artillery and rocket attacks, 10 small-arms-fire engagements and three complex ambushes while moving fuel trucks throughout southwestern Afghanistan. That was until Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3 got involved, using their RQ-7B Shadow drones to provide invaluable aerial surveillance and reconnaissance for Garcia and his Marines.

“The turn in events truly took place as soon as the Shadow supported our convoys,” wrote Garcia.  “The Shadow is a remarkable asset that should be employed by any convoy traveling in a highly kinetic environment.”

Marine Unmanned Aerial Squadron 3’s Shadows operate out of multiple sites in Helmand province, allowing the drones to surveil virtually every corner of the southwestern region under NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.

 “Our primary goal is to provide information needed to make operations successful,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jarrad Demster, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3’s Camp Leatherneck detachment.

According to Demster, a native of Boise, Idaho, the survey footage collected by the Shadow is utilized by both ground and aerial forces to plan their actions and ensure they are conducted safely and intelligently.

Improvised explosive devices present a serious threat to ground forces that travel throughout southwestern Afghanistan. For Garcia and his Marines, the presence of the Shadow allowed them to mitigate the threat posed by roadside bombs.

“We can watch areas for strange behavior and use our camera to scan for signs of [improvised explosive devices],” said Demster. “This allows us to ensure convoy routes are safe for travel before the vehicles in the convoy even start their engines.”

On Aug. 28, Garcia and his Marines were attacked by more than 35 insurgents. The Shadow offered Garcia and joint tactical air controllers the information needed to place precise fire on enemy fighting positions.

Four Hellfire missiles and a 500-pound, laser-guided bomb quickly put a stop to the enemy assault.

“We aid attack aircraft and artillery assets to deliver more effective fire on targets,” said Demster. “We can also keep eyes on the target to ensure the success of the strike.”

Garcia wrote that he owes his life to the Shadow and the Marines of Marine Unmanned Vehicle Squadron 3.

“The Shadow has proven reliable, effective and … devastating against enemy forces,” wrote Garcia. “I’m convinced that lives were saved [by this asset].”

“It feels great to be reminded how important our work is,” said Demster of Garcia’s letter. “My Marines got to hear the tangible result of their efforts and feel a sense of accomplishment.”

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