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Marine UAVs' new home in Afghanistan

Of course the Marines have their own dedicated unmanned aerial vehicles flying with a new runway at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan. Everybody's got to have their own UAVs these days -- who wants to share? Maybe when it's time for putting warheads on foreheads; for that, you need the Air Force's armed Reapers or Predators. But the Marines are pretty good about killing people and breaking stuff all on their own, so when it comes to simple aerial overwatch or surveillance, they decided they wanted to do it all themselves.

Troops with a new detachment of Marine UAV Squadron 3 have set up shop at Camp Leatherneck for their RQ-7B Shadows, which will be better placed to cover Marines in the field for the summer fighting season, according to an announcement this week. Here's how the Marines' officer in charge, Maj. Matt Walker, put it:

“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 [Marine Air Wing] (Fwd.)”
The brass agreed. Then, it was a matter of getting the Marines and their gear where they needed to be to start flying their Shadows in support of ground-pounders in RC-South.
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.”

And there you have it. Although DoD officials often say they want to "look at" areas of potential "duplication" when it comes to UAVs -- so the services don't buy the same equipment when it might be cheaper for them to share it -- the Marines' story here shows how convenient it is when commanders own all the units necessary for these kinds of tasks. Based on this announcement, it appears the Marines were able to do everything they needed to get these birds and their crews into place without asking for help from Navy Seabees, or the Army (which also flies the Shadow) or Air Force transport aircraft.

Take a look here for video of one of VMU-3's first flights in its new home away from home



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