MARINE CORPS AIR GROND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif --
Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3 officially became the newest unit in the Marine Corps Friday during an activation ceremony at the Combat Center’s Lance Cpl. Torrey L. Gray Field.
VMU-3 was established to be an active part of training at the Combat Center and to become part of the operational Marine Air Ground Task Force, said Lt. Col. James W. Frey, the commanding officer of VMU-3 and a native of Ridgebury, Pa.
“Our mission will be to deploy and support the other units, but for now we’re focusing on refresher training,” said Frey. “We have the luxury of time. It’s going to be about a year before we deploy, and during that time we’re planning on building our numbers and continuing to improve the way we work at the Combat Center.”
Frey added VMU units are deployed the most in the Marine Corps due to their small numbers, and the addition of a third will help out greatly.
“With a new unit, we can help to ‘standardize’ the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) fleet,” Frey said. “UAV units right now are deploying for seven months at a time and spending usually only five back in the states. We’re going to help change that once we become fully operational. There just aren’t many of us out there, that’s why a new UAV squadron is going to be so valuable.”
VMU-3 has been at the Combat Center preparing for a while now, said Maj. James Scott, the squadron executive officer and a native of Youngstown, Ohio.
“We’ve had personnel here for quite a while,” said Scott. “Our initial people were here around early March 2008. During that time, and continuing now, we’ve been making preparations for the rest of our systems, and the rest of our Marines to get here. We’ve been setting up our headquarters and establishing infrastructure. All this work has been done by less than 80 Marines so far. Our full operational size is just under 200, but our Marines have done a fabulous job and lots of hard work.”
The squadron has also recently received their first UAV system, said Scott. The RQ-7B is the main aircraft flown by VMU-3. The aircraft utilizes the Shadow 200 operating system.
“We’ve received our first of three systems that we will be utilizing,” he said. “With our first one, for the time being, we’ll be doing refresher training and getting all these Marines who haven’t even touched one in a while back on track with what we’re here to do.”
VMU-3 has Marines from their sister unit at the Combat Center, VMU-1, and, Marines from VMU-2, which is based at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. New Marines have also come from the schoolhouse, which will give the unit a good mixture of experience and new faces, said Sgt. Maj. Rufino Mendez Jr., the squadron sergeant major and a native of Newark, N.J.
“There are a good percentage of our Marines who came here from VMU-1 and 2,” said Mendez. “We’ve been slowly building up our numbers.”
The squadron has a positive outlook on their future and are very eager to do their job, said Mendez.
“We’ve seen our Marines show plenty of excitement and motivation since we began working here,” said Mendez. “All our Marines understand their importance and they’re anxious to get into the fight and assist the other two UAV squadrons. Personally I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to set up a new unit in the Marine Corps. Not too many people get this opportunity to do so.”
VMU-3 will be supporting 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, in their Mojave Viper pre-deployment training, said Scott. Supporting 3/8 will be their first exercise as a unit.