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U.S. Marines train with an RQ-11B Raven during an operator course at Camp Lejeune, N.C., April 27.

Photo by Sgt. Andy Martinez

Task force Marines increase unit readiness with small unmanned aircraft system

8 Sep 2020 | 1st Lt. Heather Chairez The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

The crisis-response capabilities of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Southern Command reached new heights.

Task force U.S. Marines certified as small Unmanned Aircraft System operators at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, after months of training for the capability to use these small drones to get aerial depictions of a given terrain.

This is the first iteration of the SPMAGTF-SC out of the last six years to have eight Marines certified as SUAS operators. Along with many other capabilities, the SPMAGTF-SC can now offer partner nations live drone surveillance as a means to support crisis response missions and activities in the Latin American and Caribbean region.

“The new capability would allow the task force to enhance search and rescue operations if a crisis response is needed in the area of operations,” said Cpl. Tryston Compton, a geospatial analyst for the SPMAGTF-SC. “The live camera feed from the sky would allow the operator to locate those that are in need of assistance.”

 “This is a great addition to the commander’s operational capability by having the constant feed of data from the sky..." 1st Lt. Robert McCain, SPMAGTF-SC intelligence officer

The majority of SPMAGTF-SC are based out of Camp Lejeune, ready to deploy to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility at a moment’s notice and work alongside partner nation militaries. Additionally, there are approximately 20 task force Marines at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, who have integrated with Joint Task Force-Bravo, a U.S. Southern Command task force who operate a forward air base, organize multilateral exercises and support regional missions in cooperation with partner nations. The entire task force is on standby to support the partner nation militaries in the region when responding to man-made crises or natural disasters.

“It all comes down to increasing our capabilities for the unexpected, and that’s what this certification has allowed the SPMAGTF-SC to do,” said 1st Lt. Robert McCain, an intelligence officer with the SPMAGTF-SC.

The service members are trained to operate the SUAS, using one Marine to fly the drone with a hand controller while the another operating a laptop and receiving the live feed from the sky through real-time, full-motion video and sensor data via the hand controller, said Compton.

“This is a great addition to the commander’s operational capability by having the constant feed of data from the sky that can only improve the situational awareness and safety from the ground,” said McCain.

This is a capability that we are able to share and spread the knowledge of with our partner nations. We can work together and share ideas of how we could incorporate this capability to enhance our readiness with responding to a crisis, said Compton.