UAV operator guides peers toward better operation

Sgt Chad John

Story by Cpl. Justin Boling

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Sgt. Chad John spends 12 hours a day with an aerial view of Afghanistan, but he rarely leaves the ground.

John, a native of Shiprock, N.M, is an unmanned aerial vehicle operator with Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3. The sergeant is currently deployed to Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.

The Marine Corps uses small, lightweight unmanned aerial vehicles, like the RQ-7B Shadow, to provide aerial surveillance and reconnaissance for Marines and their coalition partners in Afghanistan.

“We understand the importance of providing the best view to those who are planning to go into an area so they can avoid being in a bad situation,” said John. “I always know that if I do not get the best view, I could be putting lives at risk.”

While airborne, the RQ-7B Shadow UAV is an extension of two Marines working on the ground. A vehicle operator controls the speed, direction and elevation of the aircraft, while a payload operator controls a camera that looks out for the safety of ground troops.

The evolution and use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the Marine Corps has been ongoing for the last two decades. John said he has seen the force of operators more than triple in size during his time in the service.

“Nearly seven years and seven deployments later, I take pride in seeing how far we have come,” said John.”

In Afghanistan, the Marine Corps unmanned aerial vehicles support 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), the air combat element of the southwestern regional command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.

The work of the Marine unmanned aerial vehicle operators leaves little room for error. Providing an accurate aerial view of the battlefield helps keep grunts alive, so the UAV operators must stay alert.

“Working so closely with a small group of guys allows you to learn everyone’s weaknesses and strengths,” said John. “This allows you not only to become like brothers but also to help each other to become the best operators we can.”

John hopes after this deployment to become an instructor in Arizona. There he will teach a new generation of Marine Corps UAV operators.

“I want to stay close to this job field and the great group people that I have met,” said John. “I have a lot of deployment experience that I could bring to new operators as they come into this cutting-edge field.”

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