MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (May 21) --
The Marine Corps prides itself on being a force in readiness, able to be wherever needed at a moment’s notice. Epitomizing the mission is the Marine expeditionary unit, a force of approximately 2,200 Marines and Sailors that operate from amphibious platforms at sea.
In August 2010, the 26th MEU set sail for a deployment where they supported operations ranging from humanitarian relief in Pakistan to combat operations in Libya.
During their eight-month deployment, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266 (Reinforced), the aviation combat element with the 26th MEU, proved crucial to the MEU in its ability to complete its objectives. They enabled the successful relief efforts after floods in Pakistan and protected Libyan civilians from the forces of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
To support the full spectrum of military operations, the reinforced squadron was composed of several components. MV-22B Ospreys from VMM-266 (Rein.) provided medium lift and troop transport capabilities and served as the command element, while CH-53E Super Stallions provided heavy lift and transport capabilities. Also, UH-1N Huey helicopters and AH-1W Super Cobras from HMLA-467 provided helicopter attack support if necessary. AV-8B Harriers provided the airstrike capabilities. KC-130Js provided refueling and transportation.
“We are sea-based, able to use the sea for maneuver space,” said Maj. Gen. Jon M. Davis, commanding general of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. “We are tailored to support missions across the spectrum of military operations.”
During the 26th MEU’s deployment, all elements VMM-266 (Rein.) proved themselves competent in every role they found themselves in.
In Pakistan, heavy flooding killed hundreds and left many stranded with no food and water. To ease the suffering of the Pakistani people, the 26th MEU sent Ospreys and Super Stallions loaded with supplies. The U.S. and Pakistan governments delivered almost four million pounds of food and other supplies to 150 locations in Sindh province.
“The operation made the difference between life and death for many people totally surrounded by water who could not be reached any other way,” said Maj. Gen. Nasrullah Tahir Dogar, the commanding general of Pakistan Army’s 16th Division.
Several months later, VMM-266 (Rein.) distinguished itself in combat. After UN Security Council Resolution 1975 was passed and authorized a no-fly zone over Libya, Marine Harriers attacked Libyan military targets to protect Libyan civilians.
“Going into Operation Odyssey Dawn, we had five aircraft that dropped 68,000 pounds of ordnance,” said Lt. Col. Shawn R. Hermley, VMA-542 detachment officer in charge and AV-8B pilot. “We were dropping bombs then heading back to ship, reloading and refueling, and heading back out immediately.”
The MEU conducted airstrikes from March 20 through April 4. Hermley said that he couldn’t have asked for anything better from his detachment during this time.
During the intervention, an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle crashed due to mechanical problems. The 26th MEU, being the closest force on hand, conducted a tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel, or TRAP, mission to recover the crew. Within a half hour after the crash, six MEU aircraft were in the air. Two Ospreys and two Super Stallions carried the ground team for the operation while two Harriers flew overhead to provide air support if necessary. Within 90 minutes of the TRAP team’s launch, they were back aboard the USS Kearsarge with the downed pilot unharmed.
Though combat operations for 26th MEU aircraft ended April 4, VMM-266 (Rein.) still played an essential role in carrying out flight missions. The two KC-130Js continued to provide refueling capabilities to North Atlantic Treaty Organization aircraft, enabling further strikes against Libyan military targets. This led to a historic moment. This was the first time a KC-130J MEU detachment had ever flown more than 1,000 flight hours in support of their operations, according the Capt. Rich Jacobs, the command historian of VMGR-252.
During the month of May, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 467 and Marine Attack Squadron 542 returned home to Cherry Point after supporting VMM-266 (Rein.).
Families and friends gathered on separate occasions to welcome home their heroes.
“I got married just about the day before I left so it feels good to spend time with my new wife,” said Sgt. Joshua E. Clintworth, a KC-130J crew chief with VMGR-252 attached to the MEU.” I was excited to see my wife and my friends again after so long.”