MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT --
Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 conducted final training flights aboard the air station Feb. 28 in preparation for the squadron’s participation in the Weapons and Tactics Instructors course.
More than 150 Marines with the squadron will take part in the six-week course at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz.With RQ-7B Shadows, unmanned aerial vehicles with live-feed video capability, the squadron will provide day and night aerial reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition.
VMU-2 aircraft operators are enlisted Marines, unlike squadrons that field every other aircraft in the Corps’ arsenal.
“We have Marine officers who act as our unmanned aircraft commanders. They are responsible for the flight, and they own the aircraft,” said Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Lapi, squadron weapons and tactics instructor.
“But we have enlisted operators from private to master gunnery sergeant.”
Sgt. Derek H. Davis, one of the enlisted unmanned aerial vehicle operators, said that because of the important role they play on the battlefield, the squadron is constantly training. Davis has been an operator for five months and is eager to go on his first large exercise with the squadron.
“I’m looking forward to getting into a higher tempo environment with my job,” said Davis, who went on to say there are stressors that come with operating the aircraft. “You are under a lot of pressure because you have to make sure you’re watching the gauges and no mechanical errors happen. But that’s why we train.”
The squadron rarely has to rely on outside units to accomplish its mission said Lapi. He described the squadron as a hybrid of ground and aviation units because the squadron has elements of both.
VMU-2 has its own motor transportation maintenance, engineers, administration shops, and many other assets that other squadrons aboard the air station reach out to Marine wing support squadrons for.
Cpl. Tyler W. Goulding, an electronic equipment repair specialist with the squadron, recently returned from Afghanistan and had the opportunity to see first hand the importance and unique role played by unmanned aerial vehicles in a deployed environment.
Goulding said the Marines watching the video feed from the unmanned aerial vehicles can tell if there are improvised explosive devices in the ground, if an individual has a weapon and might be a potential threat, or if there is any other abnormal activity near units operating nearby.
Sgt. Maj. Brandon Eckardt, VMU-2 sergeant major, is confident in his Marines’ abilities to succeed during WTI and beyond.
“This unit has deployed every year since 2005, and it is one of the most deployed units in the entire Fleet Marine Force,” said Eckardt. “We accomplish our objectives, our mission is expanding, we have a high tempo, and we have an asset that is applicable to just about every single unit’s mission in the Marine Corps. Given the weight of that, the Marines have performed extraordinarily.”