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Lance Cpl. Corey D’Angelo, an unmanned aerial vehicle mechanic with VMU-1, goes through post flight mechanical checks on the RQ-7 Shadow UAV Aug. 27 at the Expeditionary Airfield during the squadron’s last training exercise before deploying to Iraq.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Corey A. Blodgett

Eye in the sky: VMU-1 wraps final training before deployment

27 Aug 2008 | Lance Cpl. Corey A. Blodgett

Marines with Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 completed their last training exercise, before deploying to Iraq, with the RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle at the Expeditionary Airfield Aug. 27.

The upcoming deployment will be the second time VMU-1, call sign “The Watchdogs,” have deployed to Iraq with the Shadow—the first being in early 2008, marking the first time the Marine Corps tested the vehicle, which replaced the older Pioneer UAV, in a combat environment.

“The Shadow is head over heels better than any other system we’ve had, and this training just makes sure we know what we’re doing so we’ll be able to use it to it’s full potential,” said Maj. Lance Arp, the executive officer of VMU-1. “We also wanted to get all of our qualifications completed so when we hit the ground in Iraq we have everything in place to where we can immediately start flying vehicles.”

The Shadow enables Marines to deliver intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to a multitude of different units, including U.S. Army units, by “providing an eye in the sky” with an electro-optical and infrared camera that relays video in real-time, Arp explained.

“Providing the UAV’s definitely affects the battlefield for both the Marine Corps and its enemies. It shapes it in our favor,” he said. “For one thing, the enemies we’re facing now do not have anything near this capability, which means we have the high ground that leans the table in our favor 100 percent of the time. As long as the units we’re supporting can see our picture, they’ve got a leg up on the enemy.”

With the ability to fly at an altitude of 15,000 feet, a range of more than 77 miles and a flight time of up to six hours, the Shadow is not only technologically advanced, but practical, said Cpl. Keegan Keith, a UAV operator with VMU-1.

“It’s launched from a rail, which is basically like a sling shot,” he explained. “That means we can launch practically anywhere, and it’s also really easy to maintain — especially compared to the old system.”
During the training, the Watchdogs provided support for 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, while they were conducting their own pre-deployment training.

“We’re flying missions for 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, who are in Mojave Viper before heading to Iraq themselves, and that makes the training for us that much better,” Arp said during the exercise. “If they can get a good, warm and fuzzy feeling with us here before we all get to Iraq, then they can understand that we’re out there and we can help them.”

Cpl. David Baez, a UAV operator with the squadron, said that training alongside units who are also deploying in the near future advances the already extremely successful cohesion between UAV squadrons and other units in combat zones.

“This type of training, along with just having the UAV in theater, has made our combined capabilities extremely tighter with greater success and the war on terrorism easier to complete,” he said. “It’s gotten to the point now that a lot of terrorists these days know that too. When they hear that bird buzzing, they get scared and start scattering to get out of there, real quick.”

The Watchdogs are scheduled to deploy in the fall for their sixth deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism.

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