MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
A Marine Air Ground Task Force has many moving parts, one of which is an unmanned aerial vehicle team. These Marines are the aerial eyes of the unit, and are known the world over as meticulous, thorough and above all else – professional.
Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3, equipped with the UAV called the RQ-7B, has filled this role and provided consistent and outstanding UAV-based support during Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, and here aboard the Combat Center during Enhanced Mojave Viper, said Capt. Jeffrey McCarthy, the operations officer for the squadron, known as the Phantoms.
“The Phantoms began flying again the second week of June, providing overwatch for ground evolutions in support of EMV,” said the Coral Springs, Fla., native.
As part of this overwatch, the Phantoms are also capable of calling in air and artillery fires, he said. “We can call in corrections and get the rounds on target too.”
To effectively coordinate and accomplish these critical missions, communication between the ground forces and the squadron is key, McCarthy said.
“The more you know about a mission before you launch, the better,” he said. “A lot of times they don’t know to what extent we can help them. If we’re both in tune, which is made possible through communication, we can help them almost no matter what the problem is.”
Relaying critical data back and forth is very important, but it is just one part of war-fighting. In many cases, having a team who can maintain and fix equipment rapidly when it breaks in combat, can mean the difference between a successful operation and a total disaster.
Attention to detail is very important, said Sgt. Michael Diaz, a maintenance controller in the squadron.
“Before the flight we check the functionality of everything on the bird,” said the Miami native. “Every morning in Afghanistan we would wake up and first do a [foreign object, debris] walk to clean up the runway.
Diaz recalled a time where even though they performed their job impeccably, their system had a failure.
“One time in Afghanistan we had a bird that just wouldn’t land,” Diaz said. “We did our normal pre-flight checks and everything was fine. The flaps went out on it, and it just wouldn’t land properly.
“Thanks to the design of the bird though, we were able to kill the engine and deploy the parachute,” he said. “The parachute is on the bottom of the plane, but it’s not the plane, it’s the expensive camera on it we were able to save.”
Corporal Anthony Cuevas, a UAV mechanic with the squadron, said accomplishing their mission is made easier by their repair routines and the durability and ease of repair of the RQ-7B system.
There’s not much on the plane that breaks consistently, said Cuevas, from Lehi, Utah. “We replace most of the stuff based on the flight hours, so we kind of take it out before it gets worn out.”
Every one to two hours of maintenance provides roughly six hours of flight time, he said. “It can go up and down pretty quickly, it’s a simple system that doesn’t need a lot of babysitting.”
Given the quality of the Phantom’s mechanics and their gear, Marines who come to the Combat Center for EMV can rest assured the squadron will provide them with excellent support during training and down range in support of OEF.