Friday, March 7, 2008

Raiders bring fuel to fight

Cpl. Scott McAdam

AL ASAD, Iraq (March 02, 2008) – Coalition forces on the ground rely on close air support on a daily basis. Keeping the jets in the air and supporting the troops on the ground is the number one mission for refueling aircraft.

Marine Aerial Refueler Transportation Squadron 352, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, continues to support ground forces in Iraq by bringing fuel to the fight.

The KC-130J Hercules acts as an airborne gas station for other aircraft, supporting the Marine Air Ground Task Force in Iraq.

The Hercules possesses the capability to refuel both helicopters and jet aircraft. However, they mainly support jet aircraft in theatre, keeping them in the sky, poised to unleash close air support at a moments notice.

In-air refueling maximizes speed and efficiency. Instead of landing to refuel, it allows jet aircraft more time in their area of operation and less time in transit. This practice saves time, providing continuous support for the war fighters on the ground, explained 1st Lt. Luke T. Roberts, KC-130J pilot.

Although they’ve trained for this mission in garrison, there is a different sense of responsibility here.

The refuels directly support the infantry. That’s the difference between garrison and Iraq, explained Cpl. Jared R. Fowler, loadmaster, VMGR-352.

“Back in the US we train for war, but back at home we don't have troops on the ground in a hostile environment,” said Staff Sgt. Jeffery Morgan, KC-130 crew chief, VMGR-352.

The Hercules can transfer approximately 5,500 to 11,000 pounds of fuel to either an AV-8B Harrier or F/A-18 Hornet in minutes.

While aircraft are refueling, the aircrew act as the pilot’s eyes and ears in the back, playing an important role in maintaining the safety of all aircraft involved, added Sgt. Eric Hernandez, crew chief, VMGR-352.

“The enlisted aircrew and maintainers know their jobs inside and out,” said Roberts. “Without them, the C-130s would never get off the ground.”

Though VMGR-352 performs refueling operations daily, their mission entails much more.

“We haul cargo and passengers regularly, with our most somber mission being angel flights,” said Morgan, a Hastings, Neb. native.

On an angel flight, Marines transport casualties back to the United States.

“That is the mission that no one looks forward to, but we are willing and ready to get that Marine back to his loved ones,” added Morgan.

Other missions the Raiders execute include: equipment moves, battlefield illumination, aerial delivery and rapid ground refueling, explained Hernandez, a San Antonio native.

“That’s why we are here, to support that young Marine on the ground,” said Roberts. “I hope by doing what we do, we help them accomplish their mission and keep the service members on our side alive.”

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