Mission: Support the MAGTF commander by conducting electromagnetic spectrum warfare, multi‐sensor
reconnaissance and surveillance, supporting arms coordination and control, and destroying targets day or
night under all‐weather conditions, during expeditionary, joint, and combined operations.
The Commandant of the Marine Corps directed the establishment of Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
Squadron 3 (VMU‐3) as part of the expansion of the Marine Corps to an end‐strength of 202,000 active
duty Marines. The addition of a VMU would enable the Marine Corps to decrease individual squadron
operations tempo and free up capability to be used for further tasking by the Marine Air Ground Task
Force (MAGTF) Commanders. The United States Marine Corps activated VMU‐3 on 12 September 2008 at
Twenty‐nine Palms, California as a part of Marine Air Control Group‐38, 3D Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine
Expeditionary Force under LtCol James W. Frey as the first commanding officer and SgtMaj R. Mendez Jr
as the first Sergeant Major.
The Phantoms took to the skies for the first time 10 days after activation on 22 September 2008 with the
Shadow 200 Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (TUAS). VMU‐3 then supported several exercises
including STEEL KNIGHT, several MOJAVE VIPERS, DESERT SCORPION, and a Weapons and Tactics
Instructor’s course (WTI). In support of WTI, VMU‐3 became the first USMC UAS squadron to utilize a UAS
as a Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance Coordinator (SCAR‐C) platform and perform the role of
forward observer for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).
In preparation for the first squadron deployment, VMU‐3 stood up three detachments. The inauguration
of Detachment Alpha arose to support Shadow 200 TUAS operations in OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM
(OEF). Detachment Bravo activated in order to support ScanEagle operations in OEF. Detachment Charlie
activated in order to support ScanEagle operations for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). By January 2010,
just sixteen months after the unit's activation, the Phantoms of VMU‐3 found themselves deploying in
support of OIF and OEF 9.2. VMU‐3 provided over 225 hours of UAS support per day ‐ equivalent to
keeping nine UAVs continuously airborne ‐ the highest rate in USMC history. The amount of support
provided to the MAGTF was achieved by only 112 deployed Marines, one sailor, and four augments from
MACG‐38 units, as well as civilian contractors.
Over the course of VMU‐3's seven month deployment, employment of the Shadow UAS evolved from a
basic collections asset to a multi‐role, fully integrated platform. The Phantoms not only built‐up the
existing infrastructure in theater, but maximized the support to the ground combat element (GCE) in
terms of quality and quantity of hours. Furthermore, the Phantoms provided invaluable support to
numerous major operations including the seizure of Marjeh during OPERATION MOSTARAK. The shadow
UAS flew over 3,000 hours and over 500 sorties while Scan Eagle totaled over 17,500 hours through an
average of 7 sorties per day. The Phantoms of VMU‐3 raised the bar for UAS employment and rewrote
the book on Tactics Techniques and Procedures (TTPs).
In the fall of 2010, VMU‐3 continued to make history by pioneering new tactics and concepts. The
Phantoms supervised the successful Inaugural Flight Operations of the newly‐established VMU‐4 in Yuma,
AZ. The Phantoms supported the first‐ever deployment of Marine Corps UAS aboard a Marine
Expeditionary Unit (MEU) by providing a Subject Matter Expert (SME) to advise the 13th MEU Staff and
Headquarters Marine Corps (HQMC) on the proper employment of Maritime UAS Operations. In addition,
the Phantoms, in support of WTI 1‐11, successfully provided laser guidance for Hellfire missiles and Laser
Guided Training Rounds (LGTRs) to target impact. VMU‐3 recorded this Proof of Concept and developed
community‐wide TTPs for hosting laser‐guided weapons from all capable platforms.
The Phantoms continued to prep for their next deployment during exercise ENHANCED MOJAVE VIPER
and then deployed again in April 2011. Actions in theater motivated a convoy commander to write a letter
of appreciation to the Phantoms, thanking unmanned aerial vehicles for saving his life in Afghanistan. The
Phantoms returned from deployment in November and prepared for another deployment by supporting
a WTI course, an ENHANCED MOJAVE VIPER, and a Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC)
exercise. As proof of the Phantom’s commitment to its mission, they were awarded with the 2011
Commandant's Aviation Trophy for outstanding performance of a Marine aviation squadron.
In keeping with an ever increasing tempo, the Phantoms prepped for another deployment by supporting
multiple ENHANCED MOJAVE VIPER exercises. They deployed to OEF 13‐2 from October 2012 to May 2013
and flew missions from Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) Dwyer, Shukvani, Payne, and later at Camp
Leatherneck. VMU‐3 supported multiple units with Shadow, ScanEagle, and Aerosonde UAS. They
supported 2nd Battalion 7th Marines (2/7), Combat Logistics Regiment 15 (CLR‐15), 12th Georgian, 32d
Georgian, Regional Command Southwest Regimental Combat Team (RCT), and Weapons Company 3rd
Battalion 9th Marines (3/9). The Phantoms flew over 2,300 sorties and over 21,000 flight hours during the
deployment. VMU‐3 also supported units with Cargo Resupply Unmanned Aircraft System (CRUAS)
missions with 463 sorties.
After returning from theater, the Phantoms supported several Integrated Training Exercises (ITXs) and
WTI 1‐14. By October the focus shifted to the relocation from Twentynine Palms, California to Kaneohe
Bay, Hawaii. VMU‐3 officially joined the Hawaii community in June 2014 and supported several LAVA
VIPER exercises both during and after the relocation to Kaneohe Bay. Setting up a new squadron in
Hawaii came with many challenges. The Phantoms continually rose to these challenges and declared
Initial Operations Capable (IOC) on 28 February 2015. After obtaining flight frequencies and airspace
clearance, VMU‐3 launched an RQ‐7b Shadow on 19 September 2015, marking the first VMU‐3 flight at
Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH). VMU‐3 accomplished the final milestone of the move to Hawaii and
declared Fully Operational Capable (FOC) on 1 December 2015.
In the months that followed, VMU‐3 focused on conducting a series of Deployments for Training (DFT).
These included the integrated exercise, ISLAND WARRIOR 16 from 17 February to 4 March 2016 on
Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA); WTI 2‐16 from 14 March to 30 April 2016 in Yuma, AZ; and RIMPAC on
PTA from 24 June – 4 August 2016.
Beginning 13 August 2016 through 17 August 2018, VMU‐3 provided operational support, deploying four
detachments to the Philippines in support of OPERATION PACIFIC EAGLE and Special Operations
Command Pacific (SOCPAC).
Upon conclusion of SOCPAC support mission, VMU‐3 began a major weapon systems transition from the
RQ‐7B Shadow to the RQ‐21A Blackjack. The last Shadow flight occurred on 29 July 2018 aboard MCBH.
Immediately following, the squadron began gradually accepting the Blackjack’s equipment and
preparing for qualification training. In September 2018, the first class of VMU‐3 personnel attended the
RQ‐21A Mobile Training Team. Over the course of 14 months, the squadron would conduct a complete
platform transition integrating four full RQ‐21A systems and conducting a total reconstruction of the
squadron’s competencies. During this period, VMU‐3 deployed a detachment for integrated training to
PTA in July 2019 and Yuma, AZ in October 2019. By December, VMU‐3 successfully completed its
platform transition declaring FOC by the end of the calendar year.
In July 2020, VMU‐3 deployed detachments in support of Marine Rotational Force Darwin and is
preparing to deploy a detachment in support of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. The squadron
continues support to III Marine Expeditionary Force and other INDOPACOM forces, stands ready to
participate in future operations, and is postured to enable continued development of Unmanned Aircraft capability.
LtCol James W. Frey
12 September 2008 ‐ 17 June 2010
LtCol Timothy G. Burton
17 June 2010 ‐ 11 May 2012
LtCol John D. Thurman
11 May 2012 ‐ 18 June 2014
LtCol Brynn H. Schreiner
18 June 2014 ‐ 15 April 2016
LtCol Kenneth W. Phelps
15 April 2016 ‐ 7 June 2018
LtCol Peter Y. Ban
7 June 2018 ‐ 12 June 2020
LtCol Thomas C. Farrington II
12 June 2020 ‐ Present
SgtMaj R. Mendez Jr
12 September 2008 ‐ 16 September 2010
SgtMaj J. L. Johnson
17 September 2010 ‐ 28 June 2013
SgtMaj Christopher W. Nagle
28 June 2013 ‐ 4 June 2014
SgtMaj Jason Perry
4 June 2014 ‐ 9 Jan 2017
SgtMaj Oscar X. Gomez
10 Jan 2017 ‐ 22 Feb 2018
SgtMaj Douglas M. Hester
23 Feb 2018 ‐ 19 Jul 2018
SgtMaj Alfonso Ramos Jr
20 Jul 2018 ‐ 3 March 2020
SgtMaj Alejandro Garcia Jr
4 March 2020 ‐ Present