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AL TAQADDUM, Iraq ? Lance Cpls. Mark Blouin, a native of Salem, Mass., and James Cruse, a native of Marion, Ohio, both mechanics with Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 start the propeller on their Pioneer unmanned aerial vehicle here May 25. VMU-2 has a Pioneer detachment and two ScanEagle detachments that soar through the Iraqi skies feeding live video footage of the ground they fly over for reconnaissance missions throughout the country.

Photo by Cpl. C. Alex Herron

Pioneer soars over Iraq, keeps eyes on insurgents

27 May 2005 | Cpl. C. Alex Herron

Coalition forces are combating insurgents throughout the Al Anbar province with air power not often seen or heard.  Enemy forces can no longer use the terrain to their advantage thanks to the eyes in the sky providing intelligence and reconnaissance to ground forces.

The Pioneer, operated by Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2, is one of two UAV platforms that provide intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance support to commanders on the ground.

“We provide surveillance with our Pioneer aircraft that can be used as a big advantage on the battlefield,” said Staff Sgt. George Noll, an external pilot with VMU-2 and Elkton, Md., native. “We put eyes on what normally couldn’t be seen. We are able to give troops on the ground the ability of seeing around the next bend or behind a house they are getting ready to search.”

The Pioneer is an older model of two unmanned aerial vehicles in the squadron’s arsenal. It has been in service since the 1980s and has many advantages that come along with its large frame.  The squadron also operates a smaller unmanned aircraft called ScanEagle which is new to the unit’s inventory.  However, Pioneer is still very reliable and ground commanders aggressively seek its video output.

The Pioneer is a versatile platform that can be used for numerous situations in combat. From finding points of origin of mortar attacks to general reconnaissance missions where they explore certain areas of interest identified by troops on the ground. There have many incidents where the Pioneer has saved the lives of service members throughout Iraq.

One such incident that the Pioneer proved its combat effectiveness was during a night mission, when it used its forward-looking infrared camera to detect the enemy.

“During [that] mission we saw three individuals digging in the ground next to a road,” said Lance Cpl. Andres Lazo, an intelligence analyst with VMU-2 and Marco Island, Fla., native. “We followed them to a vehicle where they drove around and stopped in a field. We were able to watch them get out and run within a few hundred yards from the road.”

Pioneer noticed this unusual activity and the VMU-2 Marines reported it to the proper individuals. Marines from a tank company investigated the area and found a bomb that had been planted near a building Marines were scheduled to check the following day.

“The Pioneer’s important mission could never be accomplished without the support personnel of VMU-2. From maintenance to communications and support shops, this unit wouldn’t be able to accomplish its mission and do the important work it does,” said Staff Sgt. Monroe Boykin VMU-2’s squadron gunnery sergeant and Dayton, Ohio, native.

The communications section provides and maintains the video feed.   Without them, units relying on the live feed for better situational awareness would be unable to make critical decisions on the battlefield.

VMU-2 is able to provide a constant live video stream of information for battlefield decisions without putting troops in harms way. The decisions made with the information provided have the capability to not only save lives, but change the course of a fight in the favor of coalition forces by giving them the added advantage of real-time information about their insurgent adversary.

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