MCB Hawaii welcomes VMU-3 'Phantoms'

MCB Hawaii welcomes VMU-3 'Phantoms'

by Kristen Wong, Marine Corps Base Hawaii
U.S. Marine Corps

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION KANEOHE BAY -- Marine Corps Base Hawaii recently welcomed a new unit to its air station. Marines with Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3 are currently settling into their new home in Hangar 102.

The VMU-3 “Phantoms” are now a permanent unit at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, and will fall under Marine Aircraft Group 24, with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 24, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, Marine Wing Support Detachment 24 and Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367.

“We’re happy to be here and integrating with other units in the MAG and the ground units like (1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment) and 3rd (Marine Regiment),” said Maj. Daniel Lindblom, executive officer, VMU-3 and native of Alexandria, Va.

Although there are Hawaii-based Army units using the same equipment, VMU-3 is the first Marine unmanned aerial vehicle squadron in Hawaii.

“With the drawdown in Afghanistan and the commandant of the Marine Corps’ reemphasis in the Pacific, this is the best time for VMU-3 to move to Marine Corps Base Hawaii,” Lindblom said. The unit was established in 2008 at Marine Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, and previously fell under Marine Air Control Group 38. Even though the unit was born in California, its intended home was always Hawaii, according to Lindblom.

“Getting on a flight line is exactly where the unit is supposed to be,” said Lt. Col. Brynn Schreiner, the current and fourth commanding officer of VMU-3 and a native of Ohio. “There are a lot of (new) challenges (like becoming more familiar with the different units and departments on base), but that makes it more rewarding (to be stationed here).”

Lindblom said the unit’s mission has four core elements: Aerial reconnaissance, control and direct fire, provide terminal guidance to other aircraft, analyze and synthesize information. He added that there are smaller, additional mission-related tasks, which the squadron is still currently developing. The Shadow RQ-7B Unmanned Aerial Systems, which are prop-driven, single-engine propeller planes. The unit currently has 12 Shadow RQ-7B UASs, and by Fiscal Year 2016, Lindblom said the first of 45 RQ-21A Blackjack Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems will be arriving to MCB Hawaii.

With the Shadow RQ-7B UAS, VMU-3 is capable of assisting the community with visibility when it comes to natural disasters such as tsunamis, or even search-and-rescue missions for missing ships. Schreiner was previously stationed with a unit that provided aerial observation support after Hurricane Sandy, flying over New Jersey and New York to help authorities better identify criticallydamaged areas and other needs. VMU-3, he said, has the means to do the same. He added that in the future, he is interested in possible training with partner nations like Australia.

“We’re just really excited,” Schreiner said of the unit. “It’s a great opportunity to be here, it’s a great island, great base, and we’re looking forward to participating in bigger exercises.”

The initial group of VMU-3 Marines have been at MCAS K-Bay for approximately three months. More personnel will be arriving as the year progresses.

Sgt. Benjamin Washburn, a UAV technician with VMU-3, and native of Downers Grove, Ill., said he reenlisted in order to be stationed for the first time in Hawaii.

"(It’s) great (to) go from the desert to paradise,” Washburn said. “It’s well worth it. So far, so good.”

Washburn and Cpl. Robert Morales, mission payload operator, VMU-3, were showing visitors the various features of the unit’s Shadow RQ-7B UASs and answering questions at the unit’s open house, Sept. 19.

“It’s beautiful,” said Morales, of Oakland, Calif. This is the first time Morales has been stationed in Hawaii. “Life here seems to be a lot more relaxed,” Morales said. “(It’s a) total upgrade from the desert. (There is a) sense of family here (that) is really nice. I love Hawaii.”

The unit, which splits itself into detachments when deploying, will not only be operating at MCAS K-Bay, but also Pohakuloa Training Area and Wheeler Army Airfield. The unit’s first exercise will be internal training at PTA during Exercise Lava Viper. “I’m looking forward to all (future operations), whether flying to support the ground or aviation units,” Schreiner said. “I think it will be a great experience for us and hopefully an awesome experience for the customers we serve.”

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