MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. --
The newest Marine unmanned aerial vehicle squadron is training in Yuma with the Weapons and Tactics Instructor course in preparation for their first deployment in 2010.
Created September 2008 to relieve deployment rotations from its sister squadrons, VMU-3 arrived in Yuma March 23 and provided aerial support to Marines on the ground with their unmanned aircraft.
The squadron uses an RQ-7B Shadow 200 Unmanned Aerial System, consisting of two control stations and four unmanned aerial aircraft, which they launched and operated from the Barry M. Goldwater Range.
Working with VMU-3 is important because WTI graduates take the experience with them to the operating forces, said Gunnery Sgt. Jose Gonzalez, Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 UAS division head.
VMU-3 unmanned aircraft can provide air reconnaissance and target acquisition for Cobra helicopters, F/A-18 Hornets and AV-8B Harriers.
Based at Twentynine Palms, Calif., VMU-3’s Shadow unmanned aircraft can send video or pictures back to any remote viewing terminals, allowing Marines to have an eye in the sky.
“The mission of the UAS is to provide aerial coverage to the ground forces,” said Sgt. Maj. Rufino Mendez Jr., VMU-3 senior enlisted advisor. “You can’t get any more real than that. Our footage, whether it’s here in peace time or war time, is going to be the same product. We train and operate like it’s the real thing. We never take it for granted, and we try to put out the best product possible to the supporting units.”
The VMU is the eyes and ears of the Marine air-ground task force, said Lt. Col. James Frey, VMU-3 commanding officer. While performing surveillance and reconnaissance, the aircraft also provides guidance for bombs and artillery.
Yuma’s ranges provide the perfect training location, said Frey.
“This affords us a great opportunity to not only have Marines come out and do field operations in quite an austere environment,” said Frey. “But also get away from home and actually integrate with the other 3,400 Marines out here. We are trying a lot of new tactics, techniques and procedures, and this is where we have experts around to evaluate them.”
Another benefit to training here is being able to get to know the Marines, said Mendez.
“You get to know their habits, who produces and who does not. The bottom line is you get to learn your personnel. I think that’s a big benefit when we move forward and get ready to do operations overseas,” said Mendez.
One of VMU-3’s fellow squadrons, VMU-2, based at Cherry Point, N.C., will be attached to Marine Aircraft Group 40 along with Yuma’s Marine Attack Squadron 214 and Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 in southern Afghanistan this summer.
VMU-3 is scheduled to leave Yuma April 26.