CAMP BASTION Afghanistan --
When supplies run thin at forward operating bases peppering the Helmand River valley, reassurance often comes with the strong hum of a Marine Corps KC-130J Hercules.
“Providing aerial resupplies is one of our primary missions,” said Capt. Sergio Luna, a KC-130J Hercules pilot with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152. “We have been flying out a lot of supplies and putting a lot of energy into getting ground forces in Afghanistan what they need.”
The counterinsurgency in southwestern Afghanistan relies on U.S. Marines and their coalition partners who live at small outposts among Afghan towns and villages. The Marines patrol village streets assisting Afghan citizens and police forces to stand on their own.
However, these small outposts are often largely cutoff from the outside world and can be difficult to reach by convoy. Marine aviators use the Hercules aircraft to drop supplies by parachute, allowing ground troops to stay in the fight with water, food and ammunition.
“I feel that the most important factor of conducting aerial resupplies is the fact you are saving lives,” said Lance Cpl. Shane Johnson, a Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 loadmaster, and native of Green Bay, Wis. “We are giving supplies to those who need them and keeping motor transportation Marines on the ground from being put into harm’s way.”
In addition to being immune to the threat of improvised explosive devices that could hinder a ground supply convoy’s progress, aerial drops deliver supplies faster without limitation from geographical obstacles.
“Our KC-130J is excellent for delivering large amounts of supplies quickly to where they are needed most,” said Luna, a native of Redmond, Wash. “We can get to areas and perform drops at speeds and places convoys can only dream about.”
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.
The Marine Corps uses the Hercules for troop and supply transport throughout southwestern Afghanistan, as well as battlefield illumination during coalition night operations. The KC-130J also serves as an aerial refueling platform for Marine Attack Squadron 513’s AV-8B Harrier attack jets.
KC-130J support in Afghanistan comes from a combined unit made up of of three Marine aerial refueler transport squadron’s detachments 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.
"This is a great opportunity for us to demonstrate that we are a team. We deliver supplies to all those fighting the insurgency,” said Luna.
The ability to move life-sustaining supplies safely and efficiently keeps Marines on the ground fighting. The Marines of the aerial refueler transport squadron said they understand the importance of their missions, and use the strength of the Hercules to get the supplies and equipment where they are needed most.
“We can load up to 30,000 pounds of water and other supplies, which can be lifted and delivered to our forces on the ground in a single drop,” said Johnson. “I have been on more drops than I can count. I cannot even begin to imagine the amount of stuff that we have given to troops and will continue to get them in the future.”
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