MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 was recognized by the Marine Corps Aviation Association for their achievements in support of training exercises and combat operations from May 2005 until April 2006.
The squadron was awarded the 2006 MCAA Edward S. Fris Award, established in honor of Maj. General Edward S. Fris, a pioneer in the development of Marine Corps Command and Control.
“The award means a lot to all of us here at VMU-1,” said Staff Sgt. Abelardo Platas, internal pilot instructor. “Not a lot of people know what we do, so it’s great to receive some recognition.”
The Watch Dogs, the squadron’s nickname, serve as a second set of eyes for ground troops, he explained.
“We provide overhead security, support for raids, and set grid points for a fire mission, among other things,” Platas said.
When the squadron is not deployed, they support Mojave Viper exercises, familiarizing infantry units with UAVs and their effectiveness on the battlefield.
During the squadron’s latest deployment, from August 2005 until March, they flew 780 RQ-2B Pioneer UAV sorties, air missions, which added up to 3,215 flight hours. It was the most flown by a squadron equipped with a Pioneer during that time period, said Platas.
Also, during their deployment, VMU-1 supported Regimental Combat Team 2 in more than two combat operations, including Operation Iron Fist, an operation to disrupt insurgent activity in various Iraqi cities.
During Operation Iron Fist, the Watch Dogs detected a cave complex the enemy used as a weapons cache and bomb-making facility. This allowed Marine snipers to kill four insurgents and confiscate small arms, explosives and other bomb-making materials, Platas said.
The squadron also helped coordinate numerous air strikes during Operation Steel Curtain with RCT-2 in November 2005.
VMU-1 supported more than 40 types of direct actions against the enemy during the deployment and detected many improvised explosive devices that were destroyed by explosive ordnance disposal Marines, said Platas.
“We’ve done so many things in the background that isn’t seen, and it’s good to know other people view our work as important and effective,” he said.
Other Watch Dogs, like Sgt. Nicolas Padron, UAV internal operator, felt a boost of morale when told the squadron won an award.
“It feels good to get this award as a squadron,” he said. “We work hard, and it’s rare to get recognized outside of your command.”
The Marine Corps only has two VMU squadrons that must trade off to provide support in Iraq. VMU-1 is deployed for seven months and returns for five months before they are deployed again.
“We’re consistently deployed,” said Padron. “So an award like this gives our Marines something to strive for and work toward.”
Cpl. Clayton Lagesse, UAV internal operator, sees the award as opening the door for UAVs, he said.
“We are in the early stages of UAV technology and advances,” he explained. “Not a lot of people, even in the military, know us and what we do. So to receive this recognition is a big step in awareness of our capabilities.”
The squadron is in the midst of preparing for their next deployment, scheduled for the end of August, where the Watch Dogs will add to their list of achievements, and serve as the Air Command and Control Unit of the Year.