On Jan. 22nd through 23rd, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 252 conducted a logistic support mission to Canadian Forces Station Alert (CFS), Alert, Nunavut, Canada. CFS Alert, is the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world, making it the furthest north any U.S. Marine Corps KC-130J Hercules and crew has traveled.
This logistics support mission is usually executed by the Canadian Royal Air Force each week in order to provide the required sustainment and transportation of military and civilian personnel to and from CFS Alert.
“For us, we were doing an extended cold weather training mission,” said Cpl. Kristian Maguire, a crewmaster for VMGR-252, Marine Aircraft Group 14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. “We just took one of their flights from them and we moved the cargo and equipment that they needed.”
A U.S. KC-130J Hercules with 9,500 pounds of cargo, seven Marines from VMGR-252 and two Royal Air Force Canadians flew for 7 hours before landing at Thule Air Base, Greenland; a joint United States Air Force and Danish base, to spend the night prior to arriving at CFS Alert.
Approximately half way to Thule Air Base, the team switched from normal navigation using magnetic headings to polar navigation using true headings. This was due to the large variations between magnetic north and true north, since they were traveling only 508 miles from the North Pole, according to Maj. Dustin Schelegle, a pilot with VMGR-252.
“On Jan. 23rd, we departed Thule Air Base and flew 1 hour and 30 minutes north to CFS Alert,” said Schelegle. “The airfield was a 5,500 feet by 150 feet gravel strip covered in snow and ice.”
The sun was absent from the sky with temperatures sitting 22 below zero, the service members made history as they landed at CFS Alert around 10:30 a.m., Wednesday morning. The success VMGR-252 had while landing the KC-130J Hercules demonstrated the aircraft and crews ability to operate in the sheer artic winter darkness.
“It was very… very cold. Initially stepping off you felt pretty normal, but you could tell within minutes you needed to get back inside,” said Maguire. “Your face would start freezing, I would take my gloves off to snap a few photos and within a few seconds your fingers would start to go a little numb, turn red and start hurting.”
With the harsh, cold weather environment, VMGR-252 created multiple contingency plans due to high risks of traveling to the artic and the potential for drastic change in weather, according to Schelegle.
“Once we got up there we were coordinating with them [Canadians] about requirements for extra gear in the artic. They had artic survival kits, which aren’t actually even in our publications … so we had to borrow those from them,” said Schelegle. “We even brought a PMA 207, [flight philologist,] who came out looking at our gear for our maintainers.”
A flight philologist’s job is to manage the procurement, development, support, fielding and disposal of the Navy’s Tactical Airlift Program Systems.
“Having a PMA 207 on board allowed them to learn different things from the Canadians … like having the survival kits for when you go up into the artic,” said Schelegle. “We are pushing for the possibility to get the artic kits and looking forward to seeing what that is going to look like in the future. Because if we ever start fighting in an environment like that … that’s something you are going to need for the survival of the air crew and passengers.”
From the approval of the mission to take off, VMGR-252 and the Canadian Royal Air Force accomplished all the administration and logistics within 14-15 hours, according to Capt. Dean Aszman, the co-pilot for the flight.
“It was impressive to see we were able to get all these people and cargo all the way into the arctic circle, something that’s never been done in Marine Corps history,” said Aszman. “I’m super grateful, honored and proud of this opportunity that the Marine Corps has given me.”