KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan --
The F/A-18 Hornets of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 launched earlier than usual from Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, the morning of May 19.
“We launched our mission early because there was a lot of enemy activity,” said Capt. Joe F. Freshour, an F/A-18 Hornet pilot with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122. With insurgents carrying out attacks throughout southwestern Afghanistan, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) Hornet pilots found themselves busy, providing precision strikes to suppress the insurgents.
“Launching early left us short on gas, so we contacted VMGR-252 while they were refueling their C-130 on Camp Bastion and asked for refueling support,” said Freshour, a native of Boring, Ore.
A KC-130J with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 received the request and provided in-air fueling so the Hornets could stay flying, providing close-air support for troops on the ground.
“Once we refueled, and literally when we disconnected from the hose, we got a call saying [2nd Reconnaissance Battalion] was getting fire,” Freshour. “We flew over to those Marines and were able to eliminate the enemy attacking them. The only reason we were able to do that was VMGR-252 supplying us with fuel.”
VMGR-252, a KC-130J Hercules squadron deployed out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., to Afghanistan’s Kandahar Airfield, supports U.S. Marines, Afghan forces and other coalition troops by providing aerial refueling, battlefield illumination, and transporting cargo and troops in Afghanistan’s Nimroz and Helmand provinces and beyond.
“We are part of the greater logistics effort,” said Maj. Scott Koltick, the detachment commander for VMGR-252, and a native of Pittsburgh. “We’ve got to move beans, bullets and Band-Aids around Afghanistan.”
As Afghan National Security Forces work to take the lead role in operations in Afghanistan, VMGR-252 facilitates those efforts by transporting Afghan troops and supplies for missions.
“About a month ago there was a prison break in Kandahar, and the Afghan command authorities made a decision that they needed to get Afghan troops transported from Bastion to Kandahar and needed to do it quickly,” said Koltick. “We flew to Bastion on short notice and picked up a couple plane loads of Afghan commandos, which are specially trained troops, and flew them to Kandahar so they could reinforce that part of their battle space.”
In addition to transporting Afghan soldiers and materials for missions, Koltick said the Afghan troops also rely on the Marine Corps’ Hercules for much-needed rest.
“Something as simple as taking an Afghan soldier from southern Afghanistan back to his family in Kabul so he can support his family is a very big deal,” said Koltick. “We take being able to travel so easily for granted in the U.S., but even something that seems as simple as taking Afghan soldiers home on leave is a very big part of forming and supporting the Afghan army.”
Since 2006, VMGR-252 has been a constant presence in Afghanistan. The North Carolina-based Marines deploy as a detachment, and work alongside their counterparts from VMGR-352, out of MCAS Miramar, Calif., and VMGR-152, out of MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, to form a consolidated squadron in Afghanistan.
“In Regional Command Southwest, we carry about half of the total cargo on our aircraft, and about a third of the passengers,” said Koltick. “Doing this for seven days a week, and 24 hours a day for months at a time, from a commander’s perspective, is really significant.
“The Marines work 24 hours a day in a constant flurry of activity,” he added. “To me that really says how reliable the Marines that I brought out here are.”
In addition to the traditional transport and refueling roles of the KC-130J, one Hercules in Afghanistan has demonstrated a new capability for the Marine Corps. A detachment of VMGR Marines at Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, deploy the Harvest Hawk KC-130J, which has the ability to transport troops and conduct aerial refueling, but also provides close-air support for ground troops with a complement of AGM-114 Hellfire and Griffin missiles, as well as a target site system from the AH-1Z Cobra attack helicopter.
“The Harvest Hawk is the source of a huge amount of pride within the C-130 community. For a C-130 guy like me who’s been in the community for a long time, if you would have told me 12 years ago that I would be the detachment commander of a unit that deploys ordnance I wouldn’t have believed you,” said Koltick. “In that short amount of time, we have changed drastically and we do operations differently. Our Marines have had to get much smarter on things like ordnance and our intelligence Marines have had to start looking at the battlefield differently.”