KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan --
The “K” in KC-130J Hercules signifies the Marine Corps aircraft’s ability to refuel other planes in midair. Refueling attack jets like the AV-8B Harrier while flying increases tactical options for commanders on the ground.
“In the case of the Harrier we can provide them with the ability to stay in the air for nearly twice as long,” explained Staff Sgt. Frederick Wiseman, a KC-130J Hercules crewmaster, and native of Erlanger, Ky. “That means twice as much time to provide reconnaissance or close-air support for ground forces operating in the Helmand River valley.”
Aerial refueling takes places thousands of feet above the battlefields of Afghanistan with aircraft traveling hundreds of miles per hour.
On the KC-130J, pilots work communications and monitor charging of weather patterns, while the enlisted crewmasters control fuel distribution and keep eye contact with the connected aircraft.
“We like to call the KC-130J a crew-served weapon because it takes a team to operate it, between maintainers, crewmasters and pilots,” said Sgt. Jon Lofthouse, a crewmaster with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252. “We have to know what every switch, knob and button does, and be able to troubleshoot and fix them if they are not functioning properly.”
Maj. Walter Butler, a KC-130J pilot deployed to Afghanistan with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252, said the enlisted crewmasters on each Hercules aircraft make aerial refueling possible.
“The primary function that we perform is serving as the eyes for the pilots during aerial refueling and being ready to act in case an emergency arises,” said Wiseman, the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of crewmaster operations for KC-130J Hercules Marines deployed to Afghanistan.
“We rely on their judgment if something were to go wrong,” added Butler, who also serves as the commanding officer of KC-130J Hercules Marines deployed to Afghanistan.
KC-130J support in Afghanistan comes from a combined unit of three Marine aerial refueler transport squadron’s detachments deployed from Miramar, Calif.; Okinawa, Japan; and Cherry Point, N.C.
Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252, out of Cherry Point, currently serves as the command element for the deployed detachment. The Cherry Point troops work daily with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 Marines, deployed from Okinawa.
Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, deployed from Miramar, operates the specially equipped Harvest HAWK KC-130J, which, in addition to typical Hercules duties, is also capable of providing close-air support with its advanced targeting system and air-to-ground missiles.
“The fact that we have united Marines from all three different squadrons brings us a group of talented and skilled Marine crewmasters,” said Maj. John Bowes, a KC-130J Hercules pilot deployed with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152. “Our work directly affects the tide of operations and these Marines rise to that task every day.”
The responsibilities of crewmasters aren’t limited to aerial refueling. 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) uses the KC-130J Hercules in a variety of other roles, including aerial resupply, battlefield illumination, and troop and cargo transport in southwestern Afghanistan.
“We are responsible for hundreds of people and their packs as well as thousands of pounds of gear every day,” said Lance Cpl. Dustin Jirovsky, a crewmaster with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, and a native of Wahoo, Neb. “With the changing needs of passengers and cargo, each day is like a game of Tetris.”
The KC-130J Hercules is the largest aircraft in the Marine Corps arsenal. The propeller-driven, fixed-wing behemoth is the latest iteration of an airframe the U.S. military has relied on for more than 50 years.
“I love this job, I cannot imagine doing anything else,” said Lance Cpl. Doug Burnett, a crewmaster with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252, a native of Mineola, Texas. “I love getting to fly around and see different parts of Afghanistan while contributing to the efforts of troops in country.”