HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. – Marines raiding a village under the cover of darkness can feel at ease with a guardian angel flying overhead. This is not the type of guardian angel Marines learn about in recruit training or the type seen in the movies. At a speed of 70 knots and a height of 10 thousand feet, a small aircraft observes a compound and gathers intelligence on the surrounding area under the cover of darkness.
Marines with Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2, Marine Aircraft Group 14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, conducted exercises flying the RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle at Hurlburt Field, Florida, Feb. 2-13, in support of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command.
The Shadow UAV is a multifunctional capability, aiding Marines operating on the battlefield since 2001. This 460-pound, 11.8 foot-long aircraft can provide nine hours of day and night real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as laser guide air or ground-controlled operations.
Operating the Shadow is nothing new to VMU-2, based at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, but they recently took a trip down to Hurlburt Field for some additional training. The VMU-2 team knows everything there is to know about this aircraft, but they never stop improving their proficiency.
“We were invited down there for the training opportunities with MARSOC integrated with the AC-130 gunships and the air assets of the Air Force,” said 1st Lt. Jeremy Eshleman, an unmanned aircraft commander with VMU-2.
With a detachment of less than 50 Marines, VMU-2 conducted 12 successful flights in less than two weeks.
“The unmanned aircraft system we have, the RQ-7B, can provide a lot of air reconnaissance, which is good for mission preparation for units,” Eshleman said. “Before they go out, we can have a lot of on-station time with aerial reconnaissance in full-motion video while planning the raid. While executing the raid, they can pull up our video feed and watch it while going into the fight.”
VMU-2 provided multiple products for MARSOC during their land, water and air training operations. During the final event, Marines were inserted by helicopter to conduct a village raid.
“What we did for MARSOC’s raid, was provide an over watch of the city as well as route reconnaissance from the insertion point of the team to the strike area, where we provided real-time battlefield surveillance,” Eshleman said.
With the multiple capabilities of the Shadow, many different units request their support from carriers to AC-130s or F-18s, according to Cpl. Esteban Rodriguez, a plane captain with VMU-2. Other days it is MARSOC or regular infantry battalions looking for our support.
“We’re not always recognized like the units that work on jet turbines or large propellers, but everyone we support loves what we do for them,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone uses UAVs because we can provide so many assets. We are guardian angels up in the sky.”
The expeditionary ability of the Marines and the Shadow make it an essential tool to ensure mission success wherever the fight brings them.
“The scenarios themselves were different and unique,” Eshleman said. “It’s great flying out of Cherry Point, but getting out and seeing different air space and range space, working with other players both in the air and on the ground was a good training opportunity.”
“I’m proud of what we did,” Rodriguez said. “At the end of it, I’m sure MARSOC will be happy with us and our support.”