U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Shaneka Shaw, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron-1 (VMU-1) a weapons and tactics instructor, graduated from the MQ-9 Basic and Requalification/Transition Course 2 class 20-03 to become the first Black female Marine qualified to fly MQ-9 Reapers Aug. 18, 2020, here.
Shaw spent 55 training days learning to fly the MQ-9 at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., and though the course was extremely condensed, she felt properly trained by the time graduation arrived.
“It was challenging, but I don’t think anyone wants to go through a course and say that it was the easiest thing they’ve ever done,” said Shaw. “I feel accomplished, because not only did I do it for my own personal growth, but I did something good for my unit and for the Marine Corps.”
Maj. Christopher Scheckel, 16th Training Squadron Marine liaison officer, went through the course as well and shared the same feelings about the complexity of the course.
“It’s a challenging and very dynamic course, but I think towards the tail end what you get is someone who not only knows how to fly an aircraft, but someone who’s thinking about things in a tactical manner,” said Scheckel.
As the Marine Corps starts to implement group-5 operations, Shaw and Scheckel expressed their gratitude for the opportunities provided to them.
“The Air Force has been extremely generous to the Marine Corps in allowing us to attend training here, giving us school seats and really giving us the expertise needed to be successful,” said Scheckel.
“If you think about how long the Air Force has been flying the MQ-9, which is well over a decade, they really are the subject matter experts,” said Shaw. “Being instructed by those subject matter experts was a humbling experience and a great opportunity.”
Shaw will be taking her knowledge back to her unit in Yuma, Ariz., to eventually become an instructor for the Marine MQ-9 pilots of the future.
“The long term goal is for me to become a MQ-9 WTI, but that will be a long and strenuous road,” said Shaw. “I need to stay in the books and lean heavily on the Air Force MQ-9 Exchange Instructor Aircrew assisting VMU-1 in standing up MQ-9 Operations.”
It’s up to Shaw to maintain her studies but Scheckel does not think that will be a problem for her.
“She’s a go getter, she’s a hardcore Marine and a professional more than anything with just this desire to do a great job for the Marine Corps,” he said.
Shaw is excited to return to Yuma to maintain her studies, hang out with her dog, Ordie, all while wearing her new Air Force swag.
“(When) You graduate college you get to wear your college t-shirt whenever you want. Well, this is my second or third time being trained by the Air Force, so I think I qualify to rock some Air Force swag.”
Shaw is not only grateful to both the Air Force and the Marine Corps for giving her the opportunity to take the course but also greatly appreciative for the trust her commanding officer, executive officer, and sensor placed in her.
“While I’m grateful to be given the opportunity to be an inspiration to others, I wish there had been so many others in all career paths before me,” Shaw said. “I wish my race and gender were so well represented in all skill sets it would be unnecessary to keep count.”
Marine MQ-9 operations began in 2018 at Holloman and it only took two years for Shaw to be selected for the position, a selection based on her work ethic and professional expertise.
“I humbly accept this acknowledgement, but I think I’m most proud of the fact that I was chosen for this position based on my work ethic and passion,” she said.
She feels humbled and grateful to be presented in this light but is also just appreciative for the opportunity to continue growing. “I feel blessed that after 18 years of serving I’m still learning and being presented with opportunities to try and accomplish new things.”
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