Thursday, January 8, 2009

VMGR-252 supports combat operations in Afghanistan

Story by: Sgt. Juan D. Alfonso

KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Combat operations are what every Marine has trained for, and are some of the most arduous times as well. Long hours, poor living conditions, and knowing that the Marine next to you is counting on you are all components of the life we live. These factors and others all combine to define forward deployed Marines around the world. These Marines have answered the call of their country and Corps and are doing everything and more than what has been asked of them.

Included in this company are the aircrew and maintainers of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 Detachment B. They deployed from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., and have been performing combat operations from Kandahar Air Field, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan since Oct. 23, 2008.

The mission of VMGR-252 Det. B is to support the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan commander by providing air-to-air refueling and assault support, day or night, under all weather conditions during expeditionary, joint, or combined operations.
As of Dec. 20, 2008, VMGR-252 Det. B has flown more than 300 flight hours. These flights have been critical to the war fighting effort in support of North Atlantic Treaty Organization, International Security Assistance Force and SPMAGTF-A.

From Oct. 23, 2008 to Dec. 20, 2008, VMGR-252 Det. B carried more than 1.7 million pounds of cargo, 3,000 passengers, delivered more than 60,000 pounds of supplies via aerial delivery and provided battlefield illumination on 12 separate occasions to Marines and ISAF forces on the ground.

The daily success of the squadron’s mission hinges on many variables and every Marine has a role to play. Just like any team, the seamless integration of the operations department, maintenance department and aircrew is the key to providing SPMAGTF-A every capability of the KC-130J Hercules.

Operations Department

The operations department begins each day by collating and prioritizing the tasking received from SPMAGTF-A while taking into account the requirements of the maintenance department. Then a “flow,” or schedule of events, is created and that becomes the plan of the day.

To date, missions in support of SPMAGTF-A, NATO, and ISAF have included heavy cargo and passenger transport, aerial delivery, battlefield illumination and rapid ground refueling.

Those assault support missions are crucial to the success of ground forces operating within the borders of Afghanistan due to the unique terrain and weather conditions associated with this location.

“Aerial delivery is probably the most important mission we can provide ground troops due to the poor weather and a lack of road structure,” said Capt. Kevin M. Shiels, a KC-130J aircraft commander and assistant operations officer.

Delivering essential items such as water, chow, fuel and ammo via parachute allows the operating forces, whether they are U.S. Marines, British Royal Marine Commandos, or Special Forces, to stay embedded and extend their presence within a specific area, according to Shiels.

In addition to providing supplies to ground troops, the unit also has the ability to establish mobile FARPs, or Forward Arming and Refueling Points, by taking advantage of the KC-130J performance characteristics. VMGR-252 Det. B has the ability to land at unimproved landing zones, set up hoses and nozzles providing multiple refueling points, and await the planned arrival of various tactical and assault support helicopters and tilt-rotor aircraft. VMGR-252 Det. B conducted rapid ground refueling in support of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, another component of the SPMAGTF-A air combat element, during a high priority VIP mission Dec. 1, 2008, issuing 16,100 lbs of.

This refueling evolution allowed the helicopters to extend their range and time airborne for fluid timeline support.

Another true assault support mission in which aviation and ground element integration is essential is battlefield illumination. After a careful study of coordinating instructions from ground forces, VMGR-252 Det. B can “Bring the sun.”

“Our presence in the sky may be small, but the results are enormous,” said Capt. Aaron M. Gates, an aircraft commander and maintenance officer.

Having the capability to provide countless hours of both overt and covert lighting from parachuting flares not only turns night into day for ground forces, but supports both ground assaults and airborne raids alike.

“Establishing key tactical relationships is crucial here in Afghanistan, especially since many NATO forces have yet to see the flare capability,” Gates said. “Providing such thorough support to our allies extends our dependability not only within Afghanistan, but across many coalition borders as well.”

The operations department delicately balances the support demands from the SPMAGTF-A ACE and the maintenance department. These essential missions can only be flown once the aircraft is prepped and ready for flight.

Maintenance Department

VMGR-252 Det. B’s maintenance department is comprised of multiple sections: maintenance control, where every task and work order is generated, prioritized and supervised; aviation electricians, who maintain all electrical systems on the aircraft; safety and survival technicians, who are responsible for the air-conditioning systems and liquid oxygen (LOX); communication and navigation technicians, who ensure all communications and navigational aids are functioning; and fixed wing engine mechanics, commonly referred to as power lines, who are responsible for the four engines, auxiliary power unit (APU) and fuel systems.

Airframes mechanics have an overall responsibility to ensure the airworthiness of the aircraft as well as the tires, brakes, and hydraulics. The supporting work centers include flight equipment, which makes sure all essential and emergency flight gear is issued, and ground support equipment, which provides all the external gear needed, such as power carts, tow tractors and maintenance stands. Safety concerns and maintenance issues are addressed by Quality Assurance, while the ordnance technicians ensure the aircraft is correctly configured for combat missions.

Conducting maintenance on the KC-130J is an ongoing evolution. As soon as the aircraft returns from flight, maintainers like Lance Cpl. Kristin M. Darnall, a fixed wing engine mechanic, immediately begin inspections to ensure the aircraft is ready for the next mission.
While fueling the aircraft, she inspects the engines and APU for faults, leaks and visual damage. At the same time, airframes mechanic Cpl. Nathaniel P. Simpson starts his walk-around.

“We inspect all major parts of the aircraft,” Simpson said. “We ensure all the systems are serviced and functional, and if we find a discrepancy, we fix it immediately.”

In addition to those Marines, Lance Cpl. Ronald A. Raab, an aviation electrician, and Cpl. Christopher T. Cullen, a communication and navigation technician, are waiting for the crew chief to debrief any discrepancies noted during flight.

Cpl. Julian Rodriguez, a flight equipment technician, stands by to exchange flight gear for the returned aircrew and issue gear to the next aircrew.

This flurry of activity is coordinated by Gunnery Sgt. Rafael Soriano, the maintenance control chief. He ensures the availability of the support equipment provided by Cpl. John A.

Barrerocasallas, a ground support equipment mechanic, and choreographs the efforts of the work centers. These Marines work a schedule usually dictated by flight operations, which means the majority of this work is done at night.

Once all the maintenance is performed and the relevant paperwork is filed, the aircraft is once again turned over to the aircrew. The aircraft commander signs for possession of the bird and the maintenance department prepares for the next flight.


A typical aircrew for the KC-130J Hercules consists of an aircraft commander, co-pilot, crew chief and loadmaster.
The aircraft commander is responsible for the perfect execution of the mission and the safety of the crew. Mission planning is an essential part of the aircraft commander’s day. Assisted by the co-pilot, he must ensure every contingency has been planned for.

In addition to his own planning, the aircraft commander must rely on his crew to perform their assigned tasks.

Crew chiefs, such as Sgt. Jonathan A. Taylor, describe themselves as a “jack of all trades, master of none.”

“Crew chiefs are familiar with every system aboard the aircraft,” Taylor said.

In addition to their responsibilities during flight, crew chiefs act as the conduit to the maintenance department, ensuring all discrepancies are annotated and understood.

In the cargo compartment, the loadmaster prepares to board passengers and cargo. He must ensure the proper placement of each pallet and crate. The aircraft must be loaded evenly, a daunting task when transporting a myriad of necessary cargo.

“Loadmasters take charge of every passenger, their baggage and any supplies they transport, and oversee all loading and unloading of the aircraft,” said Sgt. Wayne L. Bossory, a loadmaster.
Any emergency on the aircraft demands the coordinated efforts and instant reaction of all crew members aboard. Emergency procedures are briefed prior to flight and the crew coordination is rehearsed until all members of the crew share the full trust and confidence of the others. Ever willing to help each other, the aircrews share some tasks to ensure the successful completion of the mission.

Upon landing, the aircraft commander and co-pilot debrief all aspects of the mission to identify areas for improvement while the loadmaster unloads and the crew chief is debriefing maintenance. And then the cycle repeats itself.

Every pallet transported and every passenger carried is one less that has to traverse the hostile roads of Afghanistan.

The ability to air drop cargo to troops on the ground effectively multiplies the combat power of SPMAGTF-A and ISAF ground forces. Whether home or deployed, this dedicated team continues to operate to the fullest extent of the KC-130J’s capacity.

The Marines of VMGR-252 Det. B are prepared for any assigned task, but this is the task they have trained for. Providing support to the war fighting efforts in Afghanistan has given these Marines a sense of collective pride and satisfaction.

Aircraft commander Capt. James P. Sconfietti said, “I like it in Afghanistan. We are actually exercising the full range of our tactics manual while supporting coalition forces.”