AL ASAD, Iraq -- America's military has the reputation of being the most technologically advanced fighting force in the world. The Marine Corps' ability to stay at the forefront of innovations in aircraft, weaponry and fighting vehicles has allowed it to dominate the field of battle.
Keeping with that tradition are the Marines and sailors of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252, who are employing one of the Corps' newest aircraft, the KC-130J, in support of combat operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom 04-06.
Since the arrival of the main body of VMGR-252 here on Feb. 10, the squadron has been conducting air-to-air refueling and assault support missions in support of coalition objectives in the area of operations.
"We have only been operating here for a brief amount of time, but we are meeting our mission requirements," said 1st Lt. Ben Grant, KC-130J co-pilot and Cincinnati native. "The Marines, even though they have little experience with the 'J,' are adapting to this technology and applying it extremely well."
Although this squadron received the first KC-130J in 2002, this is the first time the "J" has operated forward deployed, in a combat zone.
"Other Marine Corps aircraft have been operating for years and deployed multiple times, so there is an immense amount of collective knowledge in those communities on every aspect of their operations. However, the 'J' is relatively new, so the squadron is learning as we go, and doing a great job."
Having to adapt the most to the vast technological differences between the older aircraft and the new "J Model" are the VMGR-252 maintainers and avionics technicians, who are working day and night to keep the high-tech birds flying.
According to the squadron maintenance officer the work is less physical, but very technical. With less time spent turning wrenches, and more time spent tweaking computer systems, maintenance is down from up to 40 hours per flight hour with the "F" and "R" models, to 10 hours with the "J."
"The biggest issue we are facing is a lot more computer based technology, which is susceptible to the affects of weather and dust," said Cpl. David W. Booth, KC-130J, communications navigation technician, and native of D'Lo, Miss. "This is a new aircraft to a lot of the Marines, and it's all advanced technology. Instead of getting your hands around a bolt, you have to get your hands around a data bit."
To overcome the challenge of working with a new, high-tech aircraft, the Marines of '252 are relying on reading many publications and manuals, talking with tech representatives, and good old fashion hard work.
"If it weren't for the civilian 'tech-reps' we work with and the systems they provide our job would be a lot harder than it is," Booth said. "Some of our Marines have only been with the squadron a few months, and are already doing great things. They are well trained and picking up knowledge very quick."
Serving as the only VMGR squadron in country, the VMGR-252 Marines and sailors have taken the mission and are off to a flying start, logging in more than 200 flight hours in just two weeks.
"The last time we had this many aircraft forward deployed was Operation Desert Storm," said Maj. Jeff Moses, VMGR-252 operations officer, and native of Birmingham, Ala. "With a brand new aircraft that has seen zero deployment time, the crew and maintainers are doing awesome."
"Real world operations have allowed our junior Marines to stand out and shine among their peers," Booth said. "As a noncommissioned officer, I am extremely proud to have these Marines working with me."